David Blackburn

Poor communication is damaging the Afghan mission

Poor communication is damaging the Afghan mission
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He may be a chateau-bottled shyster, but there is no better communicator of policy than Alastair Campbell. He has penned an article in the FT arguing that the lesson that should have been learned from the Iraq war was how to communicate strategic ideas and objectives. The lack of clarity that came to define Iraq now afflicts Afghanistan:

‘It was hard to discern that approach in the run-up to the Afghan surge being announced, or after it. The surge should have been followed by co-ordinated communications across the alliance. That job is not being done with the vigour and consistency that it should, and the systems of co-ordination have weakened since Iraq.

Winning requires keeping public support, a united international front, sticking to the mission despite the setbacks – that is what strategic communications is about. The conference on Afghanistan, called by Gordon Brown on January 28, is welcome. Communications should be high on his agenda. Accusations that this puts spin before soldiering should be ignored. Soldiers win wars. Failure in the battle for hearts and minds can lose them.’

Campbell is right. Support for the war has drained because it is unclear what Nato hopes to achieve in Afghanistan or what the overall strategy is; yet that is all the West talks about. Poor communication breeds uncertainty, the adjunct of which is defeatism, exacerbated by a relatively high casualty rate. But the problem runs deeper. In Britain’s case, the explanation that fighting in the ‘crucible of terror’ makes London safer is tendentious at best, especially given Britain’s all too obvious over-extension - the midwife of security breakdown.

If governments are to regain hearts and minds, they must bury a strategic narrative that exposes Nato’s fallibility and emphasise results - find out how many Taliban are killed, how many schools, hospitals and bridges have escaped reprisals; how many warlords have changed sides and so forth. Concentrate on Afghanistan’s cautious steps to stability and shout them from the rooftops.