by Mail Foreign Service
28 April 2010
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Its coloured charts, graphs and bullet-points are supposed to make the most incomprehensible data crystal clear.
But even the sharpest military minds in American were left baffled by this PowerPoint slide, a mind-boggling attempt to explain the situation in Afghanistan.
'When we understand that slide, we'll have won the war,' General Stanley McChrystal, the US and NATO force commander, remarked wryly when confronted by the sprawling spaghetti diagram in a briefing.
Baffling: The PowerPoint slide shown to US commanders shows security, economic and political conditions in Afghanistan. The dark blue arrows represent Afghan National Security Forces with the enemy in red. Other arrows highlight corruption, tribal favouritism and drug trafficking
PowerPoint has become public enemy number one for many US officers who find themselves battling slide presentations rather than insurgents.
Some have gone as far as to declare all-out war on the software after the military command was over-run with mind-numbing 30-slide presentations.
General James N. Mattis, the Joint Forces Commander, isn't taking any prisoners in his approach.
'PowerPoint makes us stupid,' he growled at a military conference in North Carolina.
Storm force: Afghan National Army soldiers march past rusting tanks and armoured personnel carriers which were destroyed in the Soviet occupation and civil war
General Stanley McChrystal is the US and Nato commander in Afghanistan
Brigadier General H.R. McMaster went one step further and banned the presentation package when he led an offensive in Tal Afar, Iraq, in 2005.
'It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,' he told the New York Times. 'Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.'
There is growing concern about the insiduous spread of PowerPoint which has come to dominate the lives of many junior officers.
Dubbed the PowerPoint Rangers, they spend hours slaving away on slides to illustrate every Afghan scenario.
Lieutenant Sam Nuxoll, a platoon leader posted in Iraq, told military website Company Command how he spent most of his time making PowerPoint presentations.
'I have to make a storyboard complete with digital pictures, diagrams and text summaries on just about anything that happens,' he added.
'Conduct a key leader engagement? Make a storyboard. Award a microgrant? Make a storyboard.'
General McChrystal views two PowerPoint presentations a day in Kabul with three more during the course of each week.
PowerPoint was launched in 1987 and bought by Microsoft shortly afterwards.