A knock on the door: 22 months of ISAF press releases

Defence International relations Conflict management

This paper examines capture-or-kill operations in Afghanistan based on an analysis of all Inertnational Security Assistance Force (ISAF) press releases over the last 22 months.

ISAF officials have long presented the capture‐or‐kill operations as one of the most effective parts of the military mission in Afghanistan. They regularly release large figures describing the number of ‘leaders’, ‘facilitators’ and ‘insurgents’ that were killed or captured, to illustrate the success of the campaign. AAN’s latest report, by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, is based on an analysis of all ISAF press releases over the last 22 months.

The report, which covers the period from 1 December 2009 to 30 September 2011 and included 3,771 ISAF press releases, provides important baseline data, as well as an insight into how ISAF sees the success of their operations. The numbers provided by ISAF show a steady general increase in reported kills and captures each month until June 2011, with a slight decrease over the winter (2010-11). After June 2011 there is a steady decline in almost all of the analysed metrics, which may be linked to unsustainable pace of capture‐or‐kill operations and the departure of General Petraeus.

The data shows differences in operational pace and impact across the country, and provides insight in the use of ISAF terminology with regard to ‘leaders’ and ‘facilitators’ and reveals some important inconsistencies. The data further suggests that ISAF is pursuing a ‘networked’ targeting strategy, targeting not only specific individuals (presumably on the basis of evidence) but also others perhaps only tangentially connected to them (for which there may be no evidence of wrongdoing).

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