Spencer Ackerman reports on a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research looking to quantify the impact of civilian casualties in Afghanistan in producing new insurgents:
“When ISAF units kill civilians,” the research team finds, referring to the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, “this increases the number of willing combatants, leading to an increase in insurgent attacks.” According to their model, every innocent civilian killed by ISAF predicts an “additional 0.03 attacks per 1,000 population in the next 6-week period.” In a district of 83,000 people, then, the average of two civilian casualties killed in ISAF-initiated military action leads to six additional insurgent attacks in the following six weeks.
There hasn't been a similar study done on terrorism, but you can extrapolate the obvious from the findings, which is that the more people killed by the U.S., the more likely people are to think about returning the favor. That's not to discount the role of ideology in producing terrorists or insurgents, but the idea that terrorism is solely the result of religion or religious ideology should long ago have been discarded.
The question then becomes how you effectively discredit that ideology. Conservatives would prefer that government officials publicly associate Islam and terrorism by using words like "Islamofascism" and say "Islamic terrorism" more, while the administration would prefer to deny terrorists any sense of religious legitimacy by arguing that Islam doesn't condone terrorism in any form.
The study also suggests another conclusion -- setting aside arguments over the necessity of the Afghan War, the longer it goes on, the more insurgents it produces, conferring a growing advantage to the people the U.S. is fighting. It stands to reason that an important American national-security interest should be winding the war down as soon as possible.
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