It was disappointing to read of the deaths of eight Afghan police and one civilian during a U.S. military raid in Afghanistan. The lack of co-ordination is interesting, as it signals either a lack of faith in the Afghan police or a level of arrogance that is unacceptable in a Counter-Insurgency (COIN) operation. This kind of incident, which discredits the U.S. military in the eyes of the locals, is significantly detrimental to the overall effort.

The deaths took place during a raid on a house. Upon hearing the explosion from what one assumes was a dynamic entry, the local police rushed to react to what they assumed was a local Taliban attack. Ironically enough, they were actually mistaken for local Taliban and were shot by the U.S. military.

What steps could have been taken to avoid this situation? Central control / liaison of all police and military activity, local level liaison in advance of operations, and embedded liaison officers. Why would this not happen? There are a couple of reasons; the commander on the ground doesn’t see the need, there is a lack of trust in the local police and there was a suspicion the operation would be compromised. Moreover, the operational interface between the police and military does not yet exist, the traditional mistrust of police (any police) by the military, and the fact taht the system was in place but didn’t work this time.

There must be co-ordination of all security forces activities in a COIN operation, if only to limit the risk of incidents like this. Such co-ordination can include measures to maintain operational security – we do it within our own forces, there is no reason that cannot be replicated when working with local entities such as the police.

This counter-insurgency operation is far more about winning the local population’s hearts and minds – their support and willingness to deny the Taliban support and room to move – than individual operational actions. It would appear that for some reason the system failed. This must be recognised, and the causes addressed, in line with the need to balance working with local organisations (themselves sources of information and intelligence, and so necessary to court) with operational imperatives.