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Why the U.S. Is Losing the Information War in Afghanistan

12:10 PM, Jun 12, 2009 • By BILL ROGGIO
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The U.S. military has taken a lot of heat in Afghanistan over airstrikes that target Taliban leaders but in some cases kill civilians. In the most recent airstrike in the remote Afghan province of Ghor, the U.S. military targeted a Taliban commander they say has links to Iran's Qods Force.

The U.S. military thought they killed Mullah Mustafa along with 16 Taliban fighters, but later reports indicate Mustafa is still alive. The governor of Ghor province is now claiming 12 Taliban fighters and 10 civilians were killed in the attack. The U.S. military maintains that no civilians were killed, but refuses to release the evidence that supports their case:

But American officials Friday said the strike killed up to 16 militants and no civilians. A spokeswoman, Elizabeth Mathias, said the strike hit a vehicle "in the middle of nowhere, away from civilians and homes." She said the military has a video showing the strike hitting the militants away from populated areas, but the military will not release it because its source cannot be revealed.

The military's refusal to declassify video of incidents such as the strike in Ghor is a major reason the Coalition is losing the information war in Afghanistan. The military is concerned the methods that are use will compromise future intelligence gathering operations, but in the process, the narrative is ceded to the Taliban or to civilian leaders who have a vested interest in inflating or manufacturing civilian deaths. After all, the U.S. military pays well if civilians are killed. To be clear, civilians are often killed during airstrike against Taliban, but in many cases the casualties have been hyped.

Unless the military had a special operations team nearby filming the attack (unlikely as the military said Mustafa's convoy was observed moving from his compound to a "the middle of nowhere"), there is little reason to keep this video classified. Everyone, including the Taliban, knows that UAVs are in the sky and watching. Until the military learns to shake its hangups and quickly declassify strike video to counter the negative narratives, they will continue to lose the information war.