Understanding Spin

by Joshua Foust on 10/21/2010 · 14 comments

I have a piece up today at the Columbia Journalism Review, tracking the current media campaign to convince us Kandahar is a success story:

These sorts of coordinated media campaigns—called “messaging” in military parlance—have been going on for years. Two years ago, I wrote in CJR about another such campaign. At that time, the military had spent a year trying to convince the public that paving the roads in Afghanistan would somehow lead to fewer IEDs and better security. In reality, security has become significantly worse in every respect—and in some cases it has become worse because of those very roads we paved. In 2008, too, the messaging campaign followed the same pattern we saw in Marjah, and what we see now in Kandahar: upbeat pronouncements about how this policy will work this time, it’s defeating the Taliban, we’re making progress, we learned from our mistakes, and so on.


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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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anan October 21, 2010 at 6:39 pm

What are the Pakistani and Afghan press reporting about Kandahar and Afghanistan?

Mullah Omar Centric QST would be mad to directly fight 15 K ISAF [3 K Canadians + more than 10 K US Army] + 40 combat infantry ANA companies + 10 ANA combat infantry battalion HQs + more than 5 K provincial AUP + 6 ANCOP combat battalions. That is unless it is willing to take one for the team and allow itself to be martyred and marginalized by rival Taliban such as Sirajudin, Hekmatyur, TTP/TNSM, LeT, Iyas Kashmiri, IMU/IJU.

The real question is how long can the ANSF and ISAF afford to keep how many forces in Kandahar.

We know that 3 K Canadians + 6 ANCOP battalions will likely leave by the end of 2011.

How long can the ANA afford to keep 40 combat infantry ANA companies + 10 combat infantry battalion HQs in Kandahar? They are badly needed in 201st ANA Corps’ battlespace [10 Eastern provinces.]

Would remind readers about a recent comment on this blog by “Old Blue.” US army performance in Kandahar has been imperfect.

For me, one important test of the Kandahar operation will be how well partnered embedding with newly forming ANA and ANP units works:

Another important test is how many sons of Kandahar join the ANP and ANA. So far, to the best of my knowledge, the sons of Kandahar haven’t been joining in large numbers.

By contrast the sons of Helmand are starting to join . . . although I don’t have specific metrics on how many Helmand residents are joining specific parts of the ANSF.

Joshua Foust October 22, 2010 at 10:02 am

“Sons of Helmand” “Sons of Kandahar”

Sorry, Anan, but is that an actual thing? Or are you just referring in a general sense to young men from Helmand and Kandahar?

anan October 22, 2010 at 1:16 pm

Josh, just meant Kandaharis and Helmand residents. Nothing more.

Should the phrase be “sons and daughters of Helmand”?
Not too many daughters likely to join from Helmand. The best place to recruit Afghan daughters in my view is the National Military Academy of Afghanistan [4 year university] and officer selection course.

One of the largest problems with the ANSF for many years was that southern Afghan Pashtuns were under represented. This still remains the case. Although 42% of the ANA is Pashtuns, the vast majority have traditionally not been Southern Afghan Pashtuns.

I was of the view that the South shouldn’t have been a major focus. Merely an economy of force operation to tie down many Mullah Omar centric Quetta Shura. The largest reason why is that the ANSF lack the capacity to fight in the South and in the rest of the country simultaneously.

The only reasons I saw for a Southern surge were:
1) to increase the numbers of Southern Pashtuns in the ANSF to ethnically balance it
2) British, Canadian, Dutch, Danish, Romanian, Estonian politics

So far I have yet to see evidence that large numbers of Kandaharis are joining the ANSF. Anecdotal reports from a couple sources suggest that Helmand residents are joining the ANSF . . . although these reports are tentative. Need more information to confirm this.

Oh . . . and . . . Khalilzad really is a son of Laghman. Hope saying so doesn’t offend other Laghman residents. :LOL:

Steve you are a funny one. :LOL:

Steve Maghribi October 21, 2010 at 10:51 pm

“Many times across space and time countries have dissolved

To use a Matrix metaphor

Are the ANA delusional?

An exception might be the thousands of international Taliban that are fighting so well

I agree neither.”

Mullah Omar Centric QST would be mad

That is unless it is willing to take one for the team and allow itself to be martyred and marginalized

Mullah Omar Centric QST would be mad

Sons of Helmand/Sons of Kandahar too.

All joining too.

Shah Mojadedi October 21, 2010 at 11:07 pm

“Mullah Omar Centric QST would be mad

Sons of Helmand/Sons of Kandahar too.

All joining too.”

Yes, that is clear Sons of Helmand/Sons of Kandahar all
joining too.

Must be part of the Spin? Steve? First I heard of these Sons of Kandahar? Khalizad is a son of Laghman this I heard also.

Anand is this Sons of Kandahar group part of the spin?
and the Sons of Helmand is this a new Taliban Group?
I have never heard of them before.

Steve Maghribi October 21, 2010 at 11:10 pm

Shah..I don’t know, must be a new Taliban Group…Sons of Helmand and Sons of Kandahar, that is why they do not want to join the ANA?

Never heard of this new Taliban unit before.

Karzai also says the Taliban are “sons of the soil” but
never heard of Sons of Helmand and Sons of Kandahar?

Maybe we can get a link on these new groups of insurgents?

Caleb Kavon October 21, 2010 at 11:15 pm

After the month long Marjah build up, I cannot take this route message seriously at all.

Marjah was spinned as if it was DDAY. This “route” in Kandahar is impressive spinning to say the least.

But what are they going to say if there is some sort of big attack or Tet like event in the future. They were moderating the claims until just a week ago.

The Peace talks and the route in tandem are a new message, but what is the end goal of this one?

anan October 22, 2010 at 1:34 pm

Caleb, it is fair to say that ANSF and ISAF are praying for a Tet like attack in the South. QST would likely get creamed. Unfortunately I don’t think QST is dumb enough to oblige.

A Tet against greater Kabul, Paktya, Khost, Paktika, Ghazni, Mazar e Sharif, Kapisha, Kunduz, wouldn’t be a bad thing either.

Problem is that the Tet might come to Wardak, Logar, Laghman, Kunar, Nangarhar, Nuristan, Baghlan, which are not yet ready to rebuff a Tet offensive. They are already seeing effective kinetic company and battalion sized Taliban attacks. A prelude to Tet if you like.

I would argue that Marjah is generally successful when you don’t consider the amount of ANSF/Marine resources it has tied up. By serving as a magnet for Taliban from the region, Marjah has helped improve security in central Helmand. The new schools in Marjah are a good thing in their own right. They are part of the long generational war against extremism.

Caleb Kavon October 22, 2010 at 1:09 am

Bravo on the Article Joshua…Bravo…

Try to get this in the NYTs…(maybe impossible)
But, if friggin “the Devil” Khalizad can get in
you should to,

That is just a fantastic piece about this spin, everyone
should read it, really.

Great Work, Thanks..

Steve Maghribi October 22, 2010 at 4:27 pm

Sons and Daughters of Helmand and Kandahar…?

Not a new Taliban unit?

That was good spinning Anand….you should get a job
at the NYT…they are tentative and anecdotal too.

anan October 22, 2010 at 4:41 pm

Come on now Steve. Don’t you like a good 4 Gravity spin while flying once in a while? :LOL:

Sorry for not spinning the ISI propaganda that the ANSF is crap and that the international community should reduce ANSF funding, equipping, training, advising.


Do you have any data points regarding how many Southern Pashtun Afghans are joining the ANSF? Would be very interested in what you could share.

Caleb Kavon October 22, 2010 at 4:41 pm

Anand, the point is different..

When you are saying everything is perfect, and the enemy is
“routed” you are implying just that.

This is a political war also.

So if the enemy does a brilliant counter stroke somewhere, God forbid, then Petreaus and the rest of the Spin Team will be looking very bad. There victory in our time line will look very hollow.

Obama is not buying it anyway. So it is really for the rest of us to stuff our selves on.

That was the Brilliance of Tet, not militarily but politically.

anan October 22, 2010 at 5:14 pm

“When you are saying everything is perfect, and the enemy is
“routed” you are implying just that.” Haven’t said this. QST is suffering heavy losses in Kandahar. But wouldn’t yet say that Kandahar is going well for GIRoA/ANSF/ISAF.

Still looking for data points on how well the 10 ANA combat infantry bn HQs + 40 ANA combat infantry companies are doing; as well as how the 6 ANCOP battalions and more than 5 thousand provincial AUP are doing.

A major Tet offensive early next spring in Kandahar, Helmand, or Nimruz [too late for this year] would be a massive strategic blunder by Mullah Omar centric QST. I don’t think they will go that road, unfortunately. They aren’t that stupid.

Obama hasn’t made up his mind based on all outside indications. I think he is waiting to see next year’s spring offensive.

Yes the Taliban could do a brilliant counter stroke. But a Southern Afghan Tet wouldn’t be that brilliant counter stroke.

In Helmand, I think it is fair to say that ISAF and ANSF are winning. However at the cost of tying up close to 50 K ANSF + ISAF in a province with 4% of Afghanistan’s population.

I agree with you that the resources could have been better used elsewhere in Afghanistan.

The Mullah Omar centric QST has yet to demonstrate its capacity to fight the ANA at the company level. Until they do, they haven’t won. [The GIRoA/ANSF/ISAF haven’t won either.]

Caleb, Tet was a disaster for the NVA and Viet Cong. Tet substantially improved ARVN and South Vietnamese police morale throughout the country. Tet also hurt NVA/Viet Cong politically among the South Vietnamese public.

The ARVN likely wouldn’t have been defeated if the US hadn’t betrayed the South Vietnamese and cut off most funding for the ARVN. I am sure you have met many South Vietnamese American immigrants who have told you the same thing.

caleb kavon October 22, 2010 at 9:20 pm

Anand, point is the same, a political event is important,

and it depends on who you talk to and what. The Vietnamese in Vietnam may not like the Government much, but the NVA Viet Cong Soldiers are very proud of their fight.

When you hear things later from the other side, it is very interesting, and Tet to them was a brilliant master stroke even if a big sacrifice.

When we are in a war of Holy Warriors and Suicide Shaheeds this is also part of the dialogue.

They should be careful now that this ROUT is not countered by something else. They being ISAF and not you Anand…

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