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[infowar.de] PsyOps in Afghanistan
October 3, 2001
Soldiers Deploy On Mental Terrain
'Psyops' troops use various media to sway civilians and undermine enemy
By Andrea Stone, USA Today
Among the U.S. special operations forces massing along the border of
Afghanistan in preparation for strikes against Osama bin Laden and his
Taliban protectors are a small cadre of soldiers whose mission is not to
capture bodies as much as hearts and minds. In this new war on
terrorism, specialists in psychological operations ? or "psyops" ? will
use old methods of persuasion to influence the behavior and emotions of
enemy forces and hostile civilians in Afghanistan.
Armed with mobile broadcast stations, leaflets and loudspeakers, these
information warriors will seek to demoralize and strike fear in the
Taliban while bucking up Afghan refugees and reassuring them that bin
Laden, not the United States, is their real enemy.
To get the message out, the 193rd Special Operations Wing in Harrisburg,
Pa., has been deployed. The Air National Guard unit flies 6 EC-130E
"Commando Solo" aircraft, which are airborne broadcast stations that can
monitor and jam electronic transmissions. A spokesman declined to say
where they are, but they are likely at air bases in Afghanistan's
neighbors Uzbekistan or Tajikistan.
Analysts say it is almost certain that soldiers from the 4th
Psychological Operations Group at Fort Bragg, N.C., which operates
Commando Solo's radio and TV equipment, have been sent to the region.
The group's 1,200 active-duty members are among 5,000 psyops soldiers in
the Army. The remaining 76% are reservists who have not been called up,
military officials say.
"The information campaign is very important both strategically and with
respect to Afghanistan," says William Nash, a retired Army two-star
general at the Council on Foreign Relations. "We need to talk directly
to the Afghan people."
Strategically, the Pentagon's tight-lipped policy about its plans is
part of a global psyops war to deny bin Laden and his Taliban hosts any
clues as to when, where or how U.S. forces will strike. But on a
tactical level, the military will be eager to get its side of the story
to Afghan fighters and civilians.
"Psyops are more critical now because it's an information war," says
Edward Rouse, a former Army psyops officer. In a conflict in which no
shots have yet been fired, "this becomes more of a war of the mind than
a war of the body."
Advocates of psyops chafe at what they say is an unfair reputation for
spreading propaganda. Prohibited by U.S. law from trying to influence
Americans, psyops soldiers say they share facts with foreigners and
market democracy and the American way of life to them. "The very essence
of any kind of psychological operation is telling the truth," Nash says.
Like all special operations missions, psyops are veiled in secrecy. But
psyops veterans say past wars point to the kinds of methods and messages
the Army is likely to use in Central Asia. It will be a two-pronged
approach aimed at two audiences: civilians and Taliban fighters.
"We will use divide-and-conquer leaflets that attempt to separate the
people from the Taliban," says Herb Friedman, a retired Army psyops
Whether through radio broadcasts, leaflets or bullhorns, U.S. forces
will try to "make it clear this is not a war against the Afghan people,
that this is a war against bin Laden," says James Phillips, a Middle
East and terrorism expert at the Heritage Foundation. "We could exploit
existing cleavages" by targeting Taliban commanders whose loyalties stem
more from bribes than ideology by promising them payoffs or a role in a
future Afghan government, he says.
Broadcasts and written materials will be tailored and tested with
Afghan-Americans before they are used. "The worst thing we could do is
throw out a message that would anger them even more," Rouse says. He
says comparing Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and Hitler backfired during
the Gulf War in 1991. That's because the enemies of Hitler's occupation
of Europe 60 years ago ? Britain, France and Jews ? were seen as
occupying powers in the Middle East.
Cultural sensitivities are crucial, Friedman says. He expects messages
to appeal to Afghans' Muslim beliefs. "There will be religious leaflets
taking various phrases from the Koran that speak of peace and not
killing one's neighbors," he predicts. "There will be photographs of
dead women and children and the question 'Is this what Allah teaches?' "
The largest audience may be refugees fleeing Afghanistan in advance of
an expected U.S. strike. Psyops soldiers will likely spread the word
that food being distributed by relief organizations to prevent
widespread famine was paid for by the United States.
How effective is psyops in turning adversaries into allies? "The trick
is to convince the people of Afghanistan or the Taliban that they're
going to lose the war," Friedman says.
Psyops officials like to brag about their successes. Like forcing
Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega to surrender in 1990 after 3
ear-splitting days during which psyops soldiers blared heavy metal rock
at the Vatican embassy where he was holed up. Or persuading thousands of
Iraqis through leaflets and loudspeakers to surrender during the Gulf
War. In one case, 500 Iraqis left their bunker to give themselves up to
three psyops soldiers armed with bullhorns.
A major challenge this time is getting the message through. The military
has few troops who speak Pashtu or Dari, the dominant languages in
Afghanistan. It may have to recruit Afghan-American translators or hire
people in the region.
Even then, it will be difficult to communicate with most Afghans. The
country has only three radio stations, no TV and little electricity.
Commando Solo planes could jam Afghan stations and broadcast their own
message or that of rebel groups. They also could airdrop battery-powered
Leaflets could be a problem in a country where two out of three people
can't read. Psyops soldiers will likely drop leaflets with pictures.
Fiona Hill, a Central Asia analyst at the Brookings Institution, is
skeptical about using psyops in Afghanistan because most of the people
will be heading toward refugee camps, she says. "There will be a big
problem of establishing communication with the populations. They aren't
highly liter ate, they're scattered, there's little power and few people
have access to a radio."
Despite such obstacles, analysts say it's worth trying to win Afghans
over with words rather than weapons. Rouse says, "Psyops is a humane
weapon because it can prevent death on both sides."
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