U.S. Counts On New Policy In Afghanistan

Will no longer announce insurgent deaths

The U.S. will no longer disclose the number of insurgents American troops kill in Afghanistan, because giving out the body counts can "send the wrong message," officials said.

The order comes from Navy Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, senior spokesman for the American-led coalition, who hopes the shift in policy will improve relations with the Afghan people, according to the Los Angeles Times.

"We send the wrong message if all we talk about is the number of insurgents killed. It doesn't demonstrate anything about whether we have made progress," said Smith. "We want to shift the mind-set."

The value of publishing body counts has been hotly debated since the Vietnam war, when an inflated enemy death toll misled the American people into believing the U.S. was on its way to victory.  Since then, the practice of releasing body counts has faded away, only making a comeback recently in Afghanistan, where military troops have been meticulous about announcing each and every enemy killed in combat.

Proponents of the practice say published enemy death tolls can bolster the spirit of the American troops and citizens back home. Also it could counter insurgent propaganda.

"Without our reports, the absence of enemy fatalities could leave a false impression that the only ones that suffer losses are the Americans and NATO," Army Lt. Col. Rumi Nielson-Green, the former spokeswoman for the 101st Airborne Division--the first division to began publishing detailed body counts in Afghanistan--wrote in an e-mail to the Times.

"When we know what we inflict upon the enemy and report the facts without embellishment or exaggeration or spin then I believe it is the right thing to do -- not because the winner is the one with the least amount of dead, but because we can be counted upon to tell the truth and the enemy cannot," Nielson-Green added.

Others say that bragging about how many bad guys the U.S. has killed does little to improve our image in Afghanistan, particularly after Afghan authorities reported 140 civilian casualties following U.S. bombings in May--the highest civilian casualty count since the U.S. entered Afghanistan in 2001. 

Aides to Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, say that the focus belongs on protecting Afghan civilians, not killing insurgents.

"If you are focused on killing the enemy, you are going to kill millions of them, and there is always going to be more of them," said Army Col. James Creighton, an adviser to McChrystal.

Between April 2008 and May 2009, the U.S. military reported nearly 2,000 insurgent deaths, not including reports that indicated "several," or "multiple" deaths, according to the The Wall Street Journal. 

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