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U.S. Military Ends Enemy Bodycounts in Afghanistan

3:35 PM, Jul 24, 2009 • By BILL ROGGIO
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The military has decided to stop reporting enemy casualties in Afghanistan and to put out positive press releases. The Los Angeles Times reports:

Under the order, issued last month by Navy Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, the military will not release specifics on how many insurgents are killed in fighting, and instead will give general estimates.

The change is part of the focus on making the Afghan population feel safer and comes as U.S. commanders are taking new steps to avoid civilian casualties.

"We send the wrong message if all we talk about is the number of insurgents killed. It doesn't demonstrate anything about whether we have made progress," said Smith, who arrived six weeks ago to overhaul U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization communications efforts. "We want to shift the mind-set."

Smith has asked commanders to issue fewer news releases and to focus on improvements in security where international forces are operating.

"We have to show we are here to protect the people," he said.

There are a few questions I'd like to see Rear Adm. Smith and those who advocate the suppression of enemy casualties answer:

How does supressing enemy casualties show we are here to protect the people?

Does the U.S. military think the Afghan people, who have one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world, actually read military press releases?

Will the US military stop reporting on US and allied casualties?

Won't the reports of the increase in Coalition casualties, which have more than doubled since last year, cause a heightened sense of unease, both at home, abroad, and in Afghanistan, specifically when the US refuses to identify the number of enemy casualties?

Does purposefully obfuscating enemy casualties sow distrust in those who read the military press releases, including the media?

What happens when the US is vague on casualties and the Taliban is specific? To whose story do you think the press will lend credence?

And finally, how will the press handle this news? The media has kept meticulous body counts on US and Coalition casualties in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Why are body counts for US and Coalition troop good, yet enemy body counts are bad?

To be clear, body counts on either side don't win wars. Ultimately those who are willing to pay whatever price is required -- in time, casualties, treasure -- win. This is a question of honesty and credibility. If the military in Afghanistan is purposefully suppressing information, then they should not be surprised when the information they do release is viewed with skepticism.