Media reports on 14 March 2012 reported that all the 200 or so troops from 11 countries listening to Sec Def Panetta speak at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan were told “no weapons”.
Tensions are running high in Afghanistan on both sides. Americans are coping with attacks by Afghan troops on US soldiers and on the Afghans are seething over the shooting of 16 unarmed civilians allegedly by a US soldier and the Koran burning incident.
A Marine Master Sergeant confirmed that about 20 Afghans were advised to attend the meeting unarmed. Rather than single the Afghans out and nonverbally shouting “we don’t trust you!” Marine MG Gurganus took the common sense step of insuring that all military attendees would be similarly unarmed. An article form Bloomberg on 14 March 2012 (Afghan Soldiers Told to Come Unarmed to Panetta Meeting @ http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-03-14/panetta-visits-afghanistan-amid-calls-to-speed-u-s-troop-exit.html) quotes the General: “Somebody had said we were going to have the Afghans leave their weapons outside,” said Gurganus. “I wanted the Marines to look just like our Afghan partners.”
In another sign of distrust, President Karzai has demanded that NATO confine its troops to military bases (Washington Post @ http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/afghan-who-crashed-truck-near-panetta-plane-dies-from-burns/2012/03/15/gIQAL9LVDS_story.html). (Also the photo source.)
There is an old Army expression that “One aw sh*t wipes out 1,000 attaboys.” The PSYOP/MISO challenge in Afghanistan would be hard enough without any negative incidents. While ncidents against NATO forces may resonate strongly with domestic audiences and impact the feelings and morale of troops on the ground, they have little to do for the information engagement cause in Afghanistan itself. The average Afghani is still likely trying to figure out why NATO is in his country in the first place.
So what can we do about it?
Incidents such as the Koran burning can be prevented. Education for the troops on the ground, especially first line supervisors – junior and mid-level NCOs in the General Purpose Force and supervisors of contract personnel must be intimately familiar with customs and ‘hot buttons’. Actions involving religious articles or religious leaders have to be handled appropriately and red flagged for action by higher HQ when necessary.
Sadly neither the experts nor I have suggestions on how to prevent isolated incidents like the recent shooting. Combat zones are stressful. People see and do horrible things – they form strong bonds often to see these bonds violently broken by the enemy.
Overwhelming the NATO force and NATO soldiers have maintained the highest levels of professional conduct under the most demanding of circumstances. Perhaps the attention should be focused on the National Leaders who have fought a decade of conflicts with too small a force. This theory is postulated by MG (R) Robert H. Scales in his Oped Piece :Too many wars, too few soldiers (see Washington Post @http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-cost-of-us-soldiers-fighting-battles-endlessly/2012/03/13/gIQAlouKAS_story.html)