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[] WPO 19.10.01: U.S. Beams Its Message To Afghans,
Washington Post
October 19, 2001

U.S. Beams Its Message To Afghans 

Impact of Pentagon's Airborne Broadcast Operation Is Unclear

By Bradley Graham, Washington Post Staff Writer 

For 10 hours a day, a specially equipped Air Force plane is beaming radio messages into Afghanistan that portray U.S. forces as liberating the country from an oppressive regime without looking to become an occupying power.

The broadcasts are among the most visible signs of a psychological operation being run by the Pentagon in tandem with the military attacks in Afghanistan. It is indicative of a U.S. effort to try to undermine political and material support for the ruling Taliban and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network.

English-language transcripts of the broadcasts, released earlier this week by the Pentagon, show 13 texts touching on U.S. motivations, Taliban and al Qaeda misdeeds and American military activities and food drops.

Some include stark warnings to noncombatants to stay clear of likely military targets and avoid interference with U.S. ground forces. Other messages emphasize that the United States has no quarrel with the rest of the Muslim world and would welcome help from Afghans in ousting the Taliban and the terrorists. They describe the U.S. mission as just, the Taliban as repressive and al Qaeda as cowardly fanatics feeding off the blood of the Afghan people.

The messages, broadcast in Pashtu and Dari, are beamed into Afghanistan for five hours each morning and five hours each evening by an Air Force EC-130E known as Commando Solo. Outfitted to conduct psychological operations, the plane transmits on three frequencies -- two AM and one shortwave. One of the AM frequencies was used previously by a Taliban station whose transmission capabilities were destroyed by the U.S. airstrikes, a defense official said.

Interspersed with the texts, which are read by anonymous, native speakers, are popular Afghan songs. Although the broadcasts have been going on since the start of the air campaign, leaflets advising Afghans of the frequencies began only last Sunday. Defense officials attributed the delay to windy conditions the previous week.

Just how many people are listening, and what effect this airwave offensive is having, are not known. Several Afghan specialists interviewed yesterday commended the Pentagon for the effort but expressed skepticism that it would really amount to much.

"You don't achieve an uprising with radio broadcasts," said Omar Samad, director of the Afghanistan Information Center in Washington and producer of Azadi Afghan Radio. "You need organizational efforts, money and arms to do that."

Ali Jalali, a military analyst and former colonel in the Afghan army, said many of the beamed messages are likely to resonate with a large segment of the Afghan population, weary after years of conflict and resentful of Taliban rule. But what will count the most, he added, will be what they see happen on the ground.

"If they feel their lives affected for the better, then they might believe what they hear," Jalali said.

A theme common of a number of the broadcasts is that the U.S. airstrikes are aimed not at the Afghan people but at the Taliban and al Qaeda.

"It is not you, the honorable people of Afghanistan, who are targeted, but those would would oppress you, seek to bend you to their own will and make you their slaves," one message says.

Another message observes that since the Soviet invasion in 1979, Afghanistan has seen years of continuing conflict. "Outsiders" are said to have been "the real cause of this pain and destruction." The Taliban and bin Laden are depicted as the "latest in the line of those" who would bring destruction.

By contrast, U.S. forces are portrayed as seeking justice for the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Included in some of the texts is an appeal for local support, with suggestions for how to assist. "Take the following action: Do not give food, shelter, or any type of aid to the Taliban or Osama bin Laden," one message says. "This will be a great help in the effort."

Two messages are addressed directly at the Taliban, urging them to surrender in the face of a far superior U.S. force. "Attention Taliban!" one of them begins. "You are condemned. Did you know that?"

Instructions for giving up are provided. "When you decide to surrender, approach United States forces with your hands in the air," one message says. "Sling your weapon across your back, muzzle towards the ground. Remove your magazine and expel any rounds. Doing this is your only chance of survival."

Presaging the widening of the U.S. campaign from bombers and jet fighters to helicopter assaults and ground troop action, one text says "helicopters will rain fire down upon your camps before you detect them on your radar."

Another carries this warning: "Attention, people of Afghanistan! United States forces will be moving through your area. We are not here to harm you! We are here for Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda and those who protect them! Please, for your own safety, stay off bridges and roadways and do not interfere with our troops or military operations."

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