Battling 'insurgent math' in Afghanistan
Around NATO HQ in Kabul, they call it "insurgent math."
In short, it is the notion that killing civilians fuels hostility towards the US-led coalition and feeds the insurgency.
Various academics have studied this issue - and it is something of a military mantra for US Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal and his team in Afghanistan.
These days, McChrystal's folks are touting a new study making the rounds in Kabul that documents a spike in violence following the deaths of civilians in Afghanistan.
The unpublished research, done by a team of academics working with McChrystal, uses military data to examine the "insurgent math" theory.
As part of the PowerPoint presentation obtained by McClatchy Newspapers, the researchers concluded that there was a 25 to 65 percent spike in violence for up to five months after NATO forces killed civilians.
Academics familiar with the results cautioned that the results are preliminary and that more research needs to be done.
But the central theme is critical.
McChrystal has taken steps to try and limit civilian deaths by issuing directives meant to limit air strikes.
"We have shot an amazing number of civilians, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat," McChrystal said last month.
The unresolved problem was evident today when US forces opened fire on a civilian bus near Kandahar, killing at least four civilians and sparking angry protests.
The shooting comes as the US is trying to win popular support for a planned military clampdown meant to quash Taliban resistance in Kandahar, the Taliban's spiritual capital.
If the academic research is accurate, Monday's shooting is likely to inflame tensions in Kandahar for months.
That will make winning popular support and battling the Taliban in the coming weeks even more difficult.