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Information Sharing in Afghanistan

August 2, 2010
By H. Mosher

SIGNAL's Incoming columnist Linton Wells II doesn't pull any punches when it comes down to how we might fare better in Afghanistan. Even this morning, news reports emerged on President Obama's commitment to Afghanistan as he told an audience of military veterans that despite challenges (and a growing tide of criticism), the U.S. has "clear and achievable" goals in the country.

In last month's SIGNAL, Wells noted that "the U.S. government-and others-consistently have failed to treat information and communications as either a critical infrastructure or as an essential service in Afghanistan." He continues that theme this month, pointing to UnityNet as a much-needed resource for that conflict:

As the strategy in Afghanistan has shifted away from counterterrorism and toward counterinsurgency, stabilization and reconstruction, the emphasis on the ground has shifted to a population-centric approach. This generates a need for previously neglected "white" information about the Afghan people. Sensitive intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance approaches may be needed to obtain information about "red"-Taliban-targets, but much of the population-centric information is available from open sources. These include the Internet and nontraditional partners such as NGOs and PVOs.

The ISAF-led coalition thus must engage more effectively in this environment, and this is where UnityNet is focused. Part of this is knowledge management, but bandwidth also needs to be increased because Internet access in the field is limited for ISAF, Defense Department and intelligence units as well as for civilian players. Facilitating communications among civil and military government entities, as well as with civilian and Afghan partners, requires an integrated information and connectivity initiative.

In this context, UnityNet can encourage a self-sustaining, open-sharing environment that can help connect economically disadvantaged populations to the global community via the Internet. The underlying tenets are straightforward: First, open information empowers and informs populations to take action on their own behalf. Second, an informed populace, supported by an informed international community, is more likely to make better choices for its cultural, socio-economic and governance challenges.

Be sure to read the entire column here. Linton traces the path from how technology helps with relief efforts in Haiti to how it can be used in Afghanistan. Most importantly, he says, these initiatives "help move the population-centric information that is in people's minds, notebooks and disconnected computers onto the Internet so that it can be discovered and shared for maximum benefit."

He then challenges readers: "Now think of how you can support UnityNet-like approaches."

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