Sunday, May 31, 2009

Wire: US Army Redeploys the Body Count in PR War

Off the Wire

Off the Wire:

WASHINGTON, May 31, 2009 -- Newswire services reported this evening that body counts are back, reigniting the decades-old debate about whether victory in war can be judged by measuring the stack of enemy dead.

The Wall Street Journal noted that in recent months, the U.S. command in Afghanistan has begun publicizing every single enemy fighter killed in combat, the most detailed body counts the military has released since the practice fell into disrepute during the Vietnam War.

The Wall Street Journal reported the following details:
The practice has revealed deep divides in military circles over the value of keeping such a score in a war being waged not over turf, but over the allegiance of the Afghan people. Does it buck up the troops and the home front to let them know the enemy is suffering, too? Or does the focus on killing distract from the goals of generating legitimacy and economic development?

American commanders have detailed nearly 2,000 insurgent deaths in Afghanistan over the past 14 months. U.S. officers say they've embraced body counts to undermine insurgent propaganda, and stiffen the resolve of the American public.

"It's a concern that at home, the common perception is this war is being lost," says Lt. Col. Rumi Nielson-Green, spokeswoman for the 101st Airborne Division, which initiated the policy.

Still, the practice has led the U.S. into an impasse with military allies, who don't release body counts for fear it would prove politically unpalatable at home and counterproductive in Afghanistan.

"Recording an ongoing body count is hardly going to endear us to the people of Afghanistan," says British Royal Navy Capt. Mark Durkin, spokesman for the 42-nation, NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, or ISAF.

U.S. Army public-affairs officers routinely release body counts for fights involving the 17,000 special-operations troops, Air Force crew members and U.S. trainers in Afghanistan, a force led by an American general.

But ISAF -- which is led by the same American general -- almost never releases enemy-casualty figures for fights involving forces under its command, including French, British, Dutch and Canadian units, as well as roughly 24,000 U.S. troops wearing the ISAF patch.
Sources: Army Deploys Old Tactic in PR War

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