This has staggering consequences for the battle for hearts and minds of the population. It is one thing for people to see foreign troops as being in their country to ferret out rogue elements among them that attacked other countries, which is the stated mission of the US and NATO, though one has to suspect that there are always covert goals behind the overt ones. Then there is some chance that they will support your endeavors and join with you in eliminating the threat.
But if the local population is oblivious to this history, they will see the foreign troops as simply invaders trying to take over their country and will naturally resist.
But not to worry! We totally know how to deal with the hearts-and-minds thing. As the Washington Post reports:
In another recent operation in the Zhari district, U.S. soldiers fired more than a dozen mine-clearing line charges in a day. Each one creates a clear path that is 100 yards long and wide enough for a truck. Anything that is in the way – trees, crops, huts – is demolished.
“Why do you have to blow up so many of our fields and homes?” a farmer from the Arghandab district asked a top NATO general at a recent community meeting.
Although military officials are apologetic in public, they maintain privately that the tactic has a benefit beyond the elimination of insurgent bombs. By making people travel to the district governor’s office to submit a claim for damaged property, “in effect, you’re connecting the government to the people,” the senior officer said.
Because it is of course well known that nothing inspires warmer feelings towards the government than having your home destroyed by its troops and then making a long trek to a government office to try and get compensation. After all, wasn’t ‘destroying the village in order to save it’ a phenomenally successful strategy for the US in Vietnam?
Country Joe McDonald’s song at Woodstock seems depressingly apropos. (Language advisory)