The New York Times reports that Operation Marjah, a major joint NATO-Afghan offensive in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, is more about shifting perceptions on the ground than just military victory. Before they began the offensive, US military commanders, who are leading the operation, took a poll of locals to measure their opinions of the US and the Taliban.

“This is all a war of perceptions,” General McChrystal said. “This is not a physical war in terms of how many people you kill or how much ground you capture, how many bridges you blow up. This is all in the minds of the participants.”

The operation also actively involved the Karzai administration for the first time:

Notably, this was the first time that the Americans took pains to involve the central government of President Hamid Karzai in such a significant operation, let alone a multiphase campaign that included the military, government and economic stability. Aside from contributing thousands of troops, Mr. Karzai and his aides, with significant help from the Americans, basically built a government in waiting. The aim is for the Afghan government to carry out programs in education, health and employment as soon as the area is secured, according to a senior American officer.

The size of the onslaught was a departure from past practice, too. The allied force is so large as to be described by one senior American adviser as “overwhelming to the point of saturation.”

And the operation was advertised, almost in neon lights, so far in advance and in such detail that there was none of the element of surprise that combat commanders usually prize.

All of those characteristics are explained by the psychological goal of this campaign, a shift of perceptions among the fence-sitters and the fearful among the Afghan people.