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There’s a lot of buzz today about a push by U.S. Forces - Afghanistan (USFOR-A) to use Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to break news from the front lines. For Danger Room readers, that story is old hat: Military units have employed social networking tools as weapons of information warfare for quite some time now.
Smart people in the Pentagon realize one of the main challenges in Afghanistan is getting ahead of the “strategic communications cycle” of the insurgency. It’s the military version of winning the news cycle: Always be on the offensive, set the agenda, respond quickly and get bad news out early before your adversaries have the chance to capitalize on it. “Recognizing that the Taliban tactic is to exaggerate, lie and create situations that cause civilian casualties, I have attempted to counter that with speed, accuracy and transparency in our reporting,” Col. Greg Julian, the top spokesman for USFOR-A, tells Danger Room.
But the really interesting point is what kinds of information these tools relay. Earlier today, USFOR-A — which is separate from the NATO International Security Assistance Force — used its Twitter page to post a tally of enemy dead. According to the tweet, six militants responsible for attacks in the province were killed in an operation in Wardak Province.
Keeping and publicizing enemy body counts is controversial — and a departure from longstanding practice. Way back in 2002, Gen. Tommy Franks, then-head of U.S. Central Command, famously said, “We don’t do body counts.” The association with the failed attrition strategy in Vietnam was one reason: Counting enemy dead is a poor measure of success, especially when your real goal is winning the support of the population.
If prevailing wisdom about “population-centric” counterinsurgency holds, why is the U.S. military using Twitter to post body counts? Apparently, it’s about maintaining the support of the population back at home.
In a must-read article, Michael Phillips of The Wall Street Journal has a key quote from Lt. Col. Rumi Nielson-Green, spokeswoman for the 101st Airborne Division: “It’s a concern that at home, the common perception is this war is being lost.”
So this new-media push, it seems, is directed at winning domestic support — not explaining U.S. motivations or broadcasting successes to the Afghan population.
It's hard to know what to say.
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The concept of twittering body counts and tracking bombs online (tho that site seems more anti-war but who knows) just seems so dehumanizing
Especially compared to the Vietnam war which people saw come alive every night on their TV's; injured soldiers screaming, blood and guts, all the horrors of war brought right up in people's grills until the American people finally said "No More". Now we twitter our wars apparently.