Throughout history, generals and other world leaders have tried their best to keep their battle plans a secret, allowing only the highest ranking leaders to know the relevant information. Many believe the element of surprise is key to winning battles. Many leaders claim giving the enemy advanced warning of an invasion would be military suicide.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization doesn’t seem to think so.
Prior to its recent invasion of the Taliban filled region of Marja in Southern Afghanistan, NATO had widely publicized its invasion plans for the past couple of weeks to both the international media and local Afghan leaders.
Many were quick to criticize NATO for this, claiming that advanced warning of a military assault would give the Taliban time to prepare for battle. Plus, such a strategy was previously implemented on a much smaller scale to mediocre results.
However, NATO had a different effect in mind.
Routinely criticized by human rights organizations as well as some world leaders for the civilian deaths in combat operations, NATO decided to take a different approach to save innocent lives. By advertising the invasion weeks before it actually happened, NATO leaders felt Afghan families living in the region would take notice and leave the area. Refugee camps were set up outside of the battle area and were prepared to take the onslaught of residents living in Marja. NATO also thought perhaps the earlier advertising of the invasion would convince insurgents to leave the area.
NATO is hoping its new attempt in Marja to actively save civilian lives will help reduce criticism from various organizations that have been critical of NATO’s collateral damage in Afghanistan. Groups, including several at USC, have protested against the killing of civilians, in general, during war. Organizations such as Food Not Bombs have condemned the West’s military actions and its support of military actions around the world that have resulted in the deaths of innocent people.
Many human rights groups have staged protests against NATO across the world, including university campuses. By trying out this new strategy in Marja, NATO is trying to fix its poor image when it comes to human rights.
Reaction to the advertising campaign has been mixed. Thousands of Afghans living in Marja did manage to make it to the refugee camp, but many others were prevented from leaving because of Taliban threats and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on main roads.
According to The Economist, Stanley McChrystal, the American and NATO commander in Afghanistan, said Marja would be an important test for this new counter-insurgent strategy. Furthermore, he claimed the security NATO will provide to the residents as well as basic governance will be very important in winning the trust of the locals. McChrystal emphasized that the people of Marja will receive the benefits of “better government, economic opportunities and of living under the rule of law.”
Along with the capture of noted Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Karachi, Pakistan and the increased aggression of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, the tide seems to be turning against the Taliban, at least for the time being. It is vital to keep the pressure on the Taliban, however, and not let up.
NATO’s new focus on actively trying to prevent civilian casualties along with an increased aggressiveness against Taliban-infested regions seems to have saved innocent lives. A pause in the offensive might give the Taliban enough time to re-group, so it is crucial to not stop pressuring the militants until they are defeated.
Some optimists have claimed the light at the end of the tunnel is slowly starting to show. Let’s hope it’s not an illusion.
Angad Singh is a sophomore majoring in international relations.