ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The Taliban attacked the gates of Bagram Air Base yesterday, saying it was retribution for leaflets dropped earlier in the day by American forces. Before the bombing, the U.S. military had apologized for those highly offensive leaflets. Those papers said, get your freedom from these terrorist dogs and had an illustration of a lion chasing a small white dog meant to represent the Taliban. Superimposed on the dog was the Muslim profession of faith.
THOMAS HENRIKSEN: Dogs are considered by many Muslim people as unclean. And mixing it with the shahada, which usually reads something to the effect, there's no God but God, is the source of the problem.
SHAPIRO: Thomas Henriksen is with the Hoover Institution. He focuses on American foreign policy and studies the military strategies to win hearts and minds. And he says the mistakes surprised him.
HENRIKSEN: It's almost inexplicable because things happen on - in the heat of battle, of course, and some of those are wrong. But in this case, this is more premeditated. People have the time to think it through, try to come up with something that might be clever or at least enticing to win hearts and minds, and it completely backfired. So I'm a little baffled by why it happened. Apparently, there will be an investigation to look into it. But until that comes about, we're left with this - being puzzled.
SHAPIRO: To people in Afghanistan, how important are these kinds of symbols? How important is ethnic and religious politics in Afghanistan?
HENRIKSEN: Well, it's fundamental because as we know, it's a very Islamic society. And the Taliban will make use of this, even though some people might give it a pass among certain secular elements. But most people, of course, believe very strongly in a religion. And it does have an impact.
SHAPIRO: President Trump recently committed several thousand more troops to Afghanistan, meaning there will be a larger footprint than there has been for the last few years. What needs to change so that this sort of thing doesn't happen in the future?
HENRIKSEN: Well, I think the troops - the American troops and allied troops through NATO - are going to have to kind of step up their game in the fact that they're in a psychological war as well as a war that brings actual combat. And part of this war has to be won by hearts and minds, by convincing people that the United States and NATO forces are their friends.
SHAPIRO: You use the phrase psychological war. What do you mean by that?
HENRIKSEN: Since World War II, the United States has used, say, propaganda or information to sway the enemy, to convince the enemy forces either to surrender or not to - not to resist. We did this during World War II. We did it in the Korean War. We did it in the Vietnam War. And we've used it also in the war in Afghanistan. The idea, of course, is to demoralize the enemy and to tout your own force, that your own - you are on the side of truth and justice. And you're trying to gain support. And in one sense, it is part of the hearts and minds campaign that is necessary in a war, but it's not actual heavy combat, as you'd think of World War II, a conventional war. This is a war that is fought by small groups, ambushes in the bush, smaller number of casualties, but very prolonged kind of war.
SHAPIRO: Thomas Henriksen of the Hoover Institution, thanks very much for speaking with us.
HENRIKSEN: Oh, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.