It is inconceivable for many to understand how the U.S. — the most powerful country on earth — after 10 years of military operations in Afghanistan failed to achieve a clear and decisive victory over the Taliban.
Among the reasons for the failure of the U.S. to clearly win the war in Afghanistan or to develop an effective exit strategy was our ineffective strategic communication.
|President Obama bows to Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud as French President Nicolas Sarkozy (right) and South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak (far left) look on.
In this analysis, I will address 10 critical points and tactics that should have been used by the U.S. to improve its strategic communication:
1. Respect, but not weakness.
It was appropriate for the U.S. to apologize over reports that US soldiers urinated on Afghan dead bodies. But, other decisions such as asking female U.S. soldiers to wear the Hijab in an effort to demonstrate cultural sensitivity to the Afghan people and excessive bowing by President Obama to the king of Saudi Arabia could be perceived by Muslim societies as displays of weakness.
Such displays might actually encourage more young Muslims to join the Taliban.
2. Effective use of negative reinforcement.
U.S. strategic communications could have used negative reinforcement to show the Afghan population that following the terrorist path of the Taliban can only have negative consequences for them, and can cause the opposite of what they want to achieve.
3. Target preachers of hate — not just terrorists.
Many of the preachers of hate who incite terrorism play a fundamental role in the phenomenon of terrorism.
In general, the Mullahs — unlike suicide bombers — could be deterred if they felt that they would lose their life for preaching hatred and encouraging violence.
Informing the Mullahs who incite terrorism that the U.S. would target them for possible prosecution, might have made many of them change their message.
4. Redirection of Afghan anger.
The Taliban managed to capitalize successfully on anger against the U.S. and used it effectively to recruit more Jihadists to take up arms against America.
Throwing the blame of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and its consequences on the Taliban, could have helped divert Afghani anger toward the Taliban.
This could have been achieved by clarifying to Afghans that the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and any personal suffering was directly caused by the Taliban’s support for al-Qaeda and its 9/11 attacks.
5. Careful use of words.
On repeated occasions, President Obama used the expression that the U.S. will “withdraw” from Afghanistan.
This can be perceived as a weakness and may serve to encourage Jihadists to continue their fight.
Instead of using the word “withdraw” which conveys “defeat,” U.S., officials could have used a phrase like “changing our tactics” (e.g. from full military confrontations to secretive intelligence operations).
The latter expression would be perceived as a sign of “strength’ instead of defeat.
6. Effective use of Quran.
In many situations Quranic verses could have been used to prevent acts of revenge. For example, Quran 6:164 states “No one should be held responsible for the wrongdoings of someone else."
7. Discrediting Taliban on Islamic teachings.
One of the best ways to weaken the Taliban is to point out its ignorance on matters of Islamic teachings.
For example, fighting during or conducting attacks during "Al-Ashhur Al-Hurom" (four lunar months in the Islamic calendar) is forbidden (Quran 2:217).
8. Expressing U.S. power.
Power does not necessarily mean the use of military action. This is an important concept for many in the Muslim world.
A perception of weakness on the part of the U.S. can only benefit the Taliban.
To avoid such a scenario, U.S. officials should stress that the US may return to Afghanistan whenever it wishes to do so.
Expressing U.S. power via powerful statements is fundamental to weaken recruiting efforts of Islamic jihadists.
9. Using Muslim allies more effectively.
The U.S. could have used different forms of diplomacy to encourage Saudi Arabia — a leading Muslim country, and a supposed ally of the U.S. — to issue a very strong fatwa against the terrorists in Afghanistan.
This could have impeded the ability of radical Islamic groups to recruit suicide bombers.
10. Fighting an effective war in "Brainstan."
Over a period of 10 years, the U.S. could have made significant changes to the thinking of young Afghans if it had developed effective educational systems to fight radicalism at cognitive levels (Cognitive-based Anti-Radicalization).
Such systems could have been structured and created in a way to educate the Afghan society without being dependent on the existence of school buildings.
Dr. Tawfik Hamid is the author of "Inside Jihad: Understanding and Confronting Radical Islam." Read more reports from Tawfik Hamid — Click Here Now.
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