[pjw] INFO: US Retreats on Publicizing Body Count of Militants Killed in Afghanistan (NY Times 9/20)

Peace and Justice Works pjw at pjw.info
Mon Oct 15 17:01:22 EDT 2018

Iraq Affinity Group supporters:

We had a lot of news to go over at the IAG meeting last Monday. I'm 
forwarding a New York Times article (below) that explains how the military 
started giving a body count to the White House to try to get President 
Trump to buy into the Afghan war (since he likes to talk about killing a 
lot of "bad guys"), but then they backed off realizing it was not a good 

There's a lot of stuff that's been going on since last week including the 
disappearance and presumed murder of a Saudi journalist, and the severe 
damage to an air force base in Florida due to Hurricane Michael. On that 
note, here's a link to an article tying in climate change/severe weather 
events to the anti-war movement:


Here are some other links to articles of interest we covered, relating 
that there are diplomats worried about peace coming to the Korean 
peninsula too quickly (!), that congress people warned Trump to get 
congressional approval before attacking Syria, that the US' debt will 
surpass the military budget within a decade, that other congress people 
urged Trump to restore aid being cut to Palestinians.

War-end declaration 'slippery slope' for U.S. Korea presence - U.N. 
Command general (Reuters 10/5)

Over 40 Members of Congress Demand Trump Seek Approval Before Military 
Action In Syria 

  As Debt Rises, the Government Will Spend More on Interest Than on the 
Military (NY Times 9/25)

35 US Senators urge Trump to restore Palestinian aid - Arab Daily News 9/25

I hope it's helpful to have these reports go out every once in a while, I 
assume people prefer digest-type emails to getting a bunch of articles 
spread out over time... but, let us know what works for you.

Again, the full article about the body count issue is below.

dan h
peace and justice works iraq affinity group

U.S. Retreats on Publicizing Body Count of Militants Killed in Afghanistan
    By [12]Thomas Gibbons-Neff     * Sept. 20, 2018

    WASHINGTON ? Taking a page from Vietnam War propaganda, the American
    military in Afghanistan has been widely publicizing body counts of
    Taliban and Islamic State fighters killed in battle. Officials
    described the practice, which began in January, as part of an apparent
    strategy to rally White House support for remaining in the conflict.

    In roughly three dozen statements, the military announced the deaths or
    wounding of more than 2,500 enemy fighters. The media releases were
    posted online, where they could have been seen by at least hundreds of
    thousands of internet followers, including on Facebook and Twitter.

    On Thursday morning, in response to questions from The New York Times,
    the practice abruptly stopped.

    The body counts served as a grisly contrast to other metrics that paint
    a grimmer reality of the war effort ? including high attrition rates in
    the Afghan military and the loss of territory to Taliban militants.

    In one example, the military headquarters in Kabul announced that at
    least 1,700 enemy fighters had been killed or hurt in 90 operations
    over a three-week period in late June and early July.

    ?The results seen on the battlefield are obvious,? Maj. Gen. Andrew
    Poppas, the chief of operations for the American-led campaign in
    Afghanistan, said in the July 21 news release.

    He said Afghan security forces ?take the fight to the enemy and
    continue to remove all who oppose them at every turn.?

    Top Pentagon officials have flatly said they oppose using body counts
    as a way to drum up public ? and political ? backing for the 17-year
    war that President Trump has repeatedly threatened to leave.

    As recently as last year, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis openly disagreed
    with using body counts as propaganda.

    ?You all know of the corrosive effect of that sort of metric back in
    the Vietnam War,? Mr. Mattis told journalists after declining to
    release the number of Islamic State fighters killed in an enormous
    American bombing in April 2017 in eastern Afghanistan. ?It?s something
    that has stayed with us all these years.?

    ?For many years, we have not been calculating the results of warfare by
    simply quantifying the number of enemy killed,? Mr. Mattis said.

    It is not clear who decided to start publicizing the enemy body count
    in Afghanistan this year. Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, said
    on Thursday it was done to highlight ?the ever-increasing capabilities?
    of Afghan security forces. The ?defensive progress? of the Afghans,
    Colonel Manning said in a statement, ?demonstrates that terrorists
    cannot win militarily.?

    Current and former Defense Department officials said the propaganda
    campaign appeared to be part of a larger strategy to convince Mr. Trump
    of gains in the war ? and the military power invested in it.

    Years before taking office, Mr. Trump repeatedly [13]urged the United
    States to withdraw its military from Afghanistan, calling the war ?a
    complete waste.?

    As his administration last year [14]prepared a new war plan for
    America?s role in Afghanistan, senior military commanders saw an
    opportunity to persuade the president to increase troop levels and
    highlight counterterror missions as pathways to success, according to
    three current and former Defense Department officials with knowledge of
    the strategy who requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

    But even Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., who at the time was the commander
    of American forces in Afghanistan, in November called the accounting of
    enemy casualties ?not an effective way of communicating what?s going on
    the battlefield.?

    Doing so defies lessons from the Vietnam War, where the American
    military?s fixation on body counts and winning a war by ?attrition? was
    ruled as an ineffective way to measure progress. Since 2001, commanders
    have debated the value of releasing body counts in [15]Afghanistan and
    Iraq, where they have drawn inevitable and unfavorable comparisons to
    the quagmire in Vietnam.

    In a statement emailed to The Times early Thursday, Col. David M.
    Butler, a spokesman for the American-led mission in Afghanistan, said
    the military will occasionally ?highlight the application of violence.?

    ?We realize strikes, body counts, and leaders removed from the
    battlefield are not decisive on their own and we don?t claim they are,?
    Colonel Butler said in the email. ?This command is going to refrain
    from publishing this type of information unless absolutely necessary to
    provide context in extenuating circumstances.?

    There are roughly 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan ? including
    4,000 that were added under Mr. Trump?s strategy. Most of the forces
    are restricted to advising roles behind the front lines. As a result,
    estimates of dead militants are difficult to verify, according to three
    military officers familiar with the process.

    When not accompanied by American forces, Afghan troops have in the past
    overestimated the number of enemy combatants killed in firefights.

    A military document obtained by The Times concluded that airstrikes
    carried out by the Afghan Air Force in September 2017 resulted in enemy
    casualty estimates that ?appear to be inflated.? It noted that two of
    the six strikes purported to have killed 135 militants ? an unusually
    high amount.

    American combat operations officially ended in Afghanistan in 2014,
    when the mission shifted to training and advising local security
    forces. During the last two years of the Obama administration, the
    United States military generally avoided publicizing the number of
    militants killed during operations.

    Rare exceptions ? a total of four mentions of dead militants in 2015
    and 2016 ? were included in reports about civilian casualties and, in
    one case, a high-profile hostage rescue.

    Last week, days after Gen. Austin Miller took over from General
    Nicholson as commander of American forces in Afghanistan, a news
    release posted online from Kabul announced that two airstrikes had
    killed 30 Taliban fighters in Ghazni province. It [16]included a
    military video of people running out of a house before being blown up.

    ?The removal of such a large group of Taliban fighters in one day is a
    tangible example of Afghan and U.S. cooperation using intelligence and
    operations to spoil Taliban plans,? Brig. Gen. Otto Liller, the deputy
    commanding general of a Special Operations Task Force, said in the
    Sept. 12 release.

    But American military officials acknowledge that the running tally
    risks alienating regional allies while inspiring more people to turn
    against the United States.

    ?The body count figures are troubling because it shows our utter lack
    of strategy,? said Jason Dempsey, an adjunct senior fellow at the
    Center for a New American Security. ?It?s just showing activity for
    activity?s stake.?

    An early sign of the renewed public relations campaign in the war came
    days after Mr. Trump took office in January 2017.

    At the time, a special operations unit deployed to Afghanistan was told
    to prepare for a number of missions that had been deemed too risky by
    the Obama administration. The commander of the unit, according to one
    American commando who was at the briefing, said the operations were
    meant to show Mr. Trump what they were capable of achieving in

    By early February, the Special Operations unit was ready to attack a
    compound that likely housed Abdul Hasib, then the so-called emir of the
    Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan. But General Nicholson canceled
    the raid after the death of a Navy SEAL in Yemen ? and the negative
    press that followed, said the commando, who spoke on condition of
    anonymity to discuss the secretive mission.

    General Nicholson has since left Afghanistan and did not respond to
    requests for comment. An officer who is familiar with the incident did
    not dispute the reasoning for the scrubbed mission.

    In April 2017, two Army Rangers were killed on an operation to capture
    or kill Mr. Hasib near the same location. ([17]Mr. Hasib was killed.)

    That same month, the United States dropped a 21,000-pound GBU-43/B ?
    the so-called mother of all bombs ? on an Islamic State cave complex in
    Nangarhar province. The former Defense Department official said that
    was seen as the start of a ramped-up public relations campaign under
    General Nicholson?s command.

    At the American military?s direction, the Afghan government released
    the number of Islamic State fighters who were killed in that strike.

    Helene Cooper contributed reporting and Annie Daniel contributed
    A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A7 of the New
    York edition with the headline: U.S. Retreats on Publishing Body Count
    of Militants Killed in Afghanistan. [18]Order Reprints | [19]Today?s

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