What Can an Academic Tell Soldiers?

It was near the end of the evening commander’s update briefing on 6 June 2010, and her audience included dozens of staff officers in various combat uniforms. Hundreds more joined via videoconference from the regional commands in Afghanistan and NATO bases around the world. ISAF commander General Stanley McChrystal sat solemn-faced at the hub of a U-shaped array of plywood tabletops arranged to give him eye contact with his closest advisors. The woman called up the first slide of her presentation: the impact of civilian casualties on insurgent violence across Afghanistan. Many in the audience were skeptical. What could a young academic with no operational or field experience tell them about civilian casualties — a challenging and sensitive topic — that they didn’t already know? In a crisp, professional tone she presented the key finding: On average, civilian deaths caused by ISAF units led to increased attacks directed against ISAF for a period that persisted fourteen weeks after each incident.

Premium Employers