Don't shoot the messenger. "Now there's an alternative on the horizon that promises to be safer and cheaper by zapping [malaria, dengue feaver and West Nile] germs while sparing the mosquitoes," reports Scientific American. "The technology is hidden in an artificial flower designed to attract mosquitoes and treat them with pathogen-killing drugs that allow the insects to live and continue to perform important functions such as pollinating flowers and serving as food for animals and other insects." (Adult western malaria mosquito, Anopheles freeborni, Jack Kelly Clark photo)
"All you have to do is not screw up, and, even if you do, you just blame it on the Americans," Sgt. First Class Jacob Stockdill tells students at the Army's new Afghanistan Counterinsurgency Academy, reports the Wall Street Journal (subscription only). What works for the Democrats -- Bush's Fault™ -- works for other enemies of victory in the war on terror:
Six years into the Afghan war, the Army has decided its troops on the ground still don't understand well enough how to battle the Taliban insurgency. So since the spring, groups of 60 people have been attending intensive, five-day sessions in plywood classrooms in the corner of a U.S. base here, where they learn to think like a Taliban and counterpunch like a politician.
The academy's principal message: The war that began to oust a regime has evolved into a popularity contest where insurgents and counterinsurgents vie for public support and the right to rule. The implicit critique: Many U.S. and allied soldiers still arrive in the country well-trained to kill, but not to persuade.
All politics is local, and spin wins. The counterinsurgency school was set up at the recommendation of Lt. Col. John Nagl, co-author with General Petraeus of the Army's Counterinsurgency Field Manual. Dan Helmer's the point man:
In April, the Army gave a 26-year-old Rhodes scholar, Capt. Dan Helmer, six weeks to get the school up and running. Capt. Helmer tells his students, who rank as high as colonel, that the important battles here are 80% political and just 20% military. He exhorts them to go to great lengths to understand local politics, culture and history, to make sure actions they take on the battlefield help convince Afghans that the Kabul government will serve and protect them . . .
Capt. Helmer, a West Point graduate from Mantua, N.J., originally deployed to Afghanistan as a mentor for the Afghan National Police. At Oxford, he was author of a study on Israel's fight against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, where an army with overwhelming conventional superiority found itself mired against insurgents who had the vital support of the locals. Fast-talking, with deep-set eyes, a sunburned neck and a moustache that he grew out of respect for Afghanistan's hairiness-is-next-to-manliness culture, he says he thought from the start that Army training didn't prepare troops well for the intricacies of fighting the Afghan insurgency.
Hearts and minds are where it's at.
In Iraq, the U.S. has set up separate counterinsurgency academies for Iraqi and coalition students. In Afghanistan, Capt. Helmer insisted on putting troops from the 37-nation coalition into the classroom with their counterparts from the Afghan army, police and spy service. One of the school's central tenets is that foreign forces cannot win the war. Afghan security forces and government officials must take the lead in any activity, whether it's an attack on Taliban redoubts or reconstruction of a mosque, in order to increase popular support for President Hamid Karzai's government.
But nobody said it was going to be easy:
Academy instructors teach that counterinsurgents must "clear, hold and build" to insulate the public from insurgent tactics while demonstrating that the government has something better to offer . . . But as the academy students discovered, putting the theory into practice can feel like building a sand castle as the tide is coming in . . . Smaller missteps can undo months of counterinsurgency efforts . . .
As a goodwill gesture in September, coalition soldiers in Khost Province handed out soccer balls decorated with the flags of the world. One of them, the Saudi flag, bears a verse from the Koran. Rumors spread widely that the coalition was, in essence, encouraging Afghan children to put their holy book on the ground and kick it.
Update: Time to call in the crazies for Dr. Sanity's Carnival of the Insanities.