Petraeus Is Focusing on the Wrong Body Count in Afghanistan

By:Michael Hughes   

On March 1, 2011 ten Afghan boys between the ages of 9 and 15 set out to collect firewood in the eastern mountains outside of Nanglam in Kunar province, when two NATO helicopters appeared out of nowhere and shot the boys — one after another — killing all but one.

Shortly after the onslaught General David Petraeus told surviving family members that he was sorry, but Mohammed Bismil, the brother of two of the boys killed, didn’t much care for Petraeus’s apology. In fact, according to Afghans for Peace, the incident compelled Bismil to make a life-altering decision, which he explained in a phone interview: “The only option I have is to pick up a Kalashnikov, RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] or a suicide vest to fight.”

It’s hard to imagine Bismil’s pain, but the horrendous incident does provide one with some perspective as to why an otherwise sane person might join the Taliban and/or become a suicide bomber.

War hawks will accuse lefty peaceniks of magnifying a rare tragic situation for political gain; yet, the Nanglam massacre is no aberration. Unfortunately, within the past few weeks alone NATO has killed 150 innocent civilians.

The most notorious incident occurring in mid-February — a four day operation in Kunar in which 65 Afghan civilians were killed, including 21 boys, 19 girls, 10 women and 15 adult males — figures confirmed by the provincial governor and a team of Afghan investigators. Not only did NATO deny the charges — claiming that only 7 civilians were killed — but Petraeus suggested some of the children were not harmed by U.S. airstrikes, but were burnt by their parents. To date, the General has apologized for neither his bizarre remarks nor the loss of life.

The Washington Post quoted an Afghan official as saying: “Killing 60 people, and then blaming the killing on those same people, rather than apologizing for any deaths? This is inhuman.”

Which is surprising considering central to Petraeus’s counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine is protecting the population, as outlined in a directive he issued during the summer. According to General Petraeus:

We can’t win without fighting, but we also cannot kill or capture our way to victory. Moreover, if we kill civilians or damage their property in the course of our operations, we will create more enemies than our operations eliminate. That’s exactly what the Taliban want. Don’t fall into their trap. We must continue our efforts to reduce civilian casualties to an absolute minimum. Every Afghan civilian death diminishes our cause. If we use excessive force or operate contrary to our counterinsurgency principles, tactical victories may prove to be strategic setbacks.

Yet Petraeus has diverted our attention away from certain key performance indicators typically employed to quantify the success of a “population-centric” strategy — and for good reason. Because such metrics would undermine the General’s recent claims of progress, which Petraeus cannot afford right now because he is under the gun to prove the war is winnable in order to retain more troops in country for a longer period of time, and avoid an acceleration of the drawdown scheduled to begin midsummer.

A recently released UN report contains the true counterinsurgency performance benchmark that the military is now discounting. In spite of the addition of 30,000 new U.S. troops, more Afghan civilians were killed in 2010 than in any other year of the war – a total of 2,777 casualties which was 15 percent higher than 2009.

Pentagon officials are quick to point out how three-fourths of civilian deaths came at the hands of the Taliban, as if that is some major accomplishment. So, they’re celebrating because the U.S.-led coalition killed less of the people they have been assigned to protect than the enemy did. Well then, bravo. It is an irrelevant point, anyway, because most Afghans believe the reason the Taliban are attacking them in the first place is due to the presence of foreign troops, which is another reason a majority of Afghans want NATO to leave their country.

Many of us like to think American troops are sacrificing the most on behalf of those ungrateful Afghans. But the truth is, the Afghans have spilt more blood in 2010 than the U.S. and its allies have, combined, in the past decade. The total number of coalition fatalities since 2011 is 2,365, with 1,500 of those being U.S. soldiers. So, let’s not pontificate about blood and sacrifice, for the Afghan people are the ones bearing the brunt of insurgent attacks – not coalition troops.

Instead of focusing on metrics that matter, U.S. officials have decided to trumpet enemy body count. Apparently, the number of dead insurgents is now the barometer for determining the campaign’s efficacy. Military officials have reported that 2,448 insurgents have been killed over the past eight months, a 55 percent increase versus the same period in the year prior. In addition, over 900 Taliban “leaders” over the past ten months have been killed or captured.

However, which metric is more important — the number of insurgents taken out or the total number of insurgents? As U.S. leaders continue to insist the Taliban have been decimated, another noteworthy stat came to light at the beginning of this year when NATO officials estimated the size of the Taliban movement to be approximately 25,000. This is very interesting considering that’s approximately the strength level the Taliban sat at about a year ago. ISAF officials have refused to reconcile their so-called military gains with the fact that the total number of enemy combatants has remained the same.

The answer to this mystery can be found in Mohammed Bismil’s tale. There is no doubt that U.S.-led forces killed and captured thousands of Taliban fighters over the past year. The problem is, during the process of doing so, thousands more had been created.

(Michael Hughes is a journalist and foreign policy strategist for the New World Strategies Coalition (NWSC), a think tank founded by Afghan natives focused on developing political, economic and cultural solutions for Afghanistan. Mr. Hughes is also the Geopolitics Examiner and the Afghanistan Headlines Examiner for

NOTE:This is a cross post from Huffington Post.

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • TMH  On March 15, 2011 at 2:26 am

    How many people died in Pakistan in similar circumstances? We can not
    count. They were all collateral damage, as these US pilots are shit scared
    when they see any human moving, they only think of one think, that they
    the terrorists, must take them out, with confirming the facts. Because these
    pilots have not the courage to close enough to confirm the reality.
    This is they taught and learned in the fields of second world war, Korean and
    Vietnamese wars, history is full of such incidences.


  • Syed Ataur Rahman  On March 15, 2011 at 7:00 am

    The Americans carry out an illegal war in Afghanistan. They will not go until they are beaten blue. It is a matter of time they will run just like the Soviets fled. But by then they would have killed many hundred of thousands of Afghanis and Pakistanis. There is no one to challenge their conscience or morals. The world will have to face their barbarity until another more powerful power emerges. The poorer and weaker countries will have to bear these atrocities unfortunately.

  • S M Anwar  On March 15, 2011 at 8:16 am

    It is so unfortunate that Americans have not as yet learnt about the psyche of the fiercely independent Afghan’s nor the Americans have good idea about the history of Afghan wars.
    But more than lamenting the shortsightedness of Americans ,I l,like every Pakistani. is more concerned at the massacre of innocent Afghans and its repercussions in the shape of growing militancy in Pakistan.

    • S U Turkman  On March 18, 2011 at 7:13 am

      Which Afghans?
      Who hate Taliban or the Pakistanis, who want to call themselves Afghans?
      Merg ber Pakistani dooshmanaanay Afghaniyanaan …!
      Merg ber Pakistani dooshmanaanay Afghanistan …!

  • Ayesha Khan  On March 16, 2011 at 2:06 am

    I think the US masses should seriously take note of what foreign policy strategists like Michael Hughes and others are writing/saying.As pointed out above, a similar situation has been created in the tribal and settled areas of Northern Pakistan especially.

    Its about time Americans woke up and realized how the war hawks within their own government are playing upon their ignorance and fears and using their national wealth to create enemies for future generations of Americans.

    The US Institute of Peace should start with explaining the significance of this term (Peace and also strategic thinking for it) to its own “rulers”, starting with CIA.

    I wish these brilliant articles were shared with FOX News and other local news to raise awareness among the American public about how their Military Industrial Complex is ruining their future and the future of their children.

    As history tells us, beginning with the annihilation of natives in the Americas, USA govt seems to leave a trail of destruction and devastation even when they wish to help. That’s why the saying, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” seems to have been made for the “white man” who seeks to impose his will on people with war machines and the language of death and destruction.

    • S U Turkman  On March 18, 2011 at 7:14 am

      Merg ber Pakistani dooshmanaanay Afghaniyanaan …!
      Merg ber Pakistani dooshmanaanay Afghanistan …!

  • Michael Hughes  On March 16, 2011 at 10:23 am

    You will never see my articles on FOX I am pretty sure:) Americans are fearful of indigenous and tribal people everywhere. Here is an interesting quote from Marshall McLuhan in 1969 using the Native American and blacks as prime examples of indigenous people the white man has destroyed because he is threatened by their culture:

    “The cultural aggression of white America against Negroes and Indians [Native Americans] is not based on skin color and belief in racial superiority, whatever ideological clothing may be used to rationalize it, but on the white man’s inchoate awareness that the Negro and Indian [Native American] — as men with deep roots in the resonating echo chamber of the discontinuous, interrelated tribal world — are actually psychically and socially superior to the fragmented, alienated and dissociated man of Western civilization. Such a recognition, which stabs at the heart of the white man’s entire social value system, inevitably generates violence and genocide. It has been the sad fate of the Negro and the Indian [Native American] to be tribal men in a fragmented culture — men born ahead of rather than behind their time.”

  • Ayesha Khan  On March 16, 2011 at 10:54 am

    Thank you for sharing this quote of McLuhan. But why are people (like yourself) of common sense and foresight no longer heard in the US? Yes I am actually asking 🙂

    It is human nature or mostly (western human nature) to attack what we do not understand but in the Knowledge Age should we still condone such knee jerk behavior?

    We all have friends and colleagues who in their own spheres work actively for some semblance of peace and stability, yet the voices that are blaring are those that advocate hatred and blind violence. If one thinks about it, the terrorists have succeeded – they have drowned out the voice of reason, they have perpetuated irrational fear, and have established long drawn out wars as the only approach to containing terror activities. So who is leading? The terrorists have made our countries acting mindlessly against their own citizens, reacting to what they do.

    I think if the US Army stopped thinking “we have to kill the terrorists” and started thinking “we have to save the innocent”, they would succeed in their objectives. Under what logic does murdering 20 innocent (as collateral damage) when you kill or capture two terrorists justify the approach? Then after a decade of this “war” where do we all stand..anyone in the US Admin or Military decision makers heard of Pyrrhic Victory?!

  • Arif Khan  On March 18, 2011 at 4:57 am

    I agree with Cadri Sahib 110% Arif Khan


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: