There is no question that relations between the US and Pakistan are in the crapper. The latest debacle was a NATO Attack on Pakistani forces on 26 November 2011. The incontrovertible facts are that at least 24 Pakistani soldiers died as a result of the attack. (See “Afghans say commando unit was attacked before airstrike was called on Pakistan - http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/afghans-say-unit-was-attacked-before-airstrike/2011/11/28/gIQAX6ZY5N_story.html)
Pakistan maintains the attack was deliberate, the US says it was not and the Afghans frankly don’t seem to give a sh*t . Conservative leaning publication, the Washington Times ran an article “US suspects NATO was lured into raid” (http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/nov/29/pakistan-calls-nato-raid-act-aggression/)
If it’s not the fog of war, it certainly is the fog of who can get their facts straight and their story out. A rash of other stories are circulating about whether or not the US will apologize, whether the mil to mil relationship between the two countries will continue and of course what does it portend for the region after the US withdraws the bulk of its forces as forecasted.
For the influence profession we can learn some powerful lessons:
1. If it is true that the Taliban were clever enough to orchestrate attacks or targeted fires to provoke an attack – this means that there are some pretty big holes in the ROE and the process of confirming your targets. It also means that once again a supposedly primitive foe has demonstrated some very sophisticated thinking
2. PAO and MISO/PSYOP must be on the same page. PSYOP may have the ability to provide PAO with input, insight, file footage and/or other help. Of course due care must be taken so that PAO’s integrity and credibility is not compromised.
3. PAO needs to counsel GOs and other senior leaders on what to say and perhaps, more importantly what not to say in fluid and uncertain situations.
4. As shown by the photo from the Washington Post, any excuse will be deemed a good one by our enemies to show popular sentiment against NATO and the US.
5. Bad news, unlike wine and chicken soup, does not get better with age. Speed is of the essence with regard to investigations and getting the word out.
6. Notwithstanding the most neutral of investigations people will believe that they want to so contingency counter propaganda and demonstration plans must be implemented.
7. The strategic importance of Pakistan as an ally mandates the diplomatic channels to include President Obama need to be engaged. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister for example is quoted in the Washington Post as being ready to pull Pakistan’s support of the US war on militancy. Ministers are influenced by diplomats, typically not by military personnel.
No matter what the truth is behind the attack, all of us need to consider the lessons to be learned and the ways and means to avoid a similar situation in the future.