It is certainly over ambitious to claim that the failures of U.S. forces in Afghanistan have all been due to a lack of use of effective strategic communication, however it can be argued that the delay of efficiency of our troops and operations has been directly due to such a deficiency. Members of the State Department who understand the region and state intimately on a cultural level have been pleading from the beginning that the government use more generous public relations tactics, rather than troop movements, to reach the people of Afghanistan.
As the President faces the looming decision regarding troop increases and possible goal reorientation, a well-constructed communication plan will be a must. General McChrystal has made clear the necessity of winning over the population and convincing them that the allied forces can offer better protection than the Taliban or Al Qaeda. If this is to be accomplished, we cannot solely rely on military officers to do all the talking; most officers have received little training in communication campaigns and those who have were limited to talking to the domestic media.
Talk has increased of the possibility of a civilian force to accompany the troops; all parties would be best served if these men and women were trained to accomplish, and focused on the success of, the strategic communication objectives so severely lacking in the current plan. To be effective, these communicators would need to be informed by integrative intelligence programs. We will need to rely on our special ops teams to gather information about what exactly the locals need most and what the Taliban can, or already do to garner their trust and collaboration. Allied forces need to prove to the population that they can be effective in providing sustainable protection and/or infrastructure. Once these needs are outlined, they need to be accomplished with close cooperation with local leaders and those with respect in the community. In fact, in situations where it is deemed safe enough, operations should be co-commanded by locals so they take a hand in the communication process to their people.
Though we certainly have barriers to overcome in communicating about this conflict to our own people and allies, it is important that at this time of momentous decision, the communication strategy to the Afghan public be considered foremost.