Monday, February 23, 2009

PSYOP Award Update

One of the purposes of this Blog is to update the PSYOP community on items of interest. An important issue today is the status of an award for excellence in PSYOP. At the moment there are two different award approaches being explored. (photo from Wikipedia)

For the past year a multi-organizational project, coordinated by USACAPOC has been under way to plan for and grant awards for exceptionally meritorious service or achievement within the PSYOP Community. Championed by the DCG of USACAPOC, the project has involved representatives from the 2nd PSYOP Group, the 7th PSYOP Group, the PSYOP Association (POA -, the PSYOP Veterans Association (POVA - and the PSYOP Regiment as represented by yours truly, the Honorary Colonel.

The award has been tentatively named the McClure Award in honor of MG Robert McClure who is considered the ‘father’ of modern day PSYOP. The award would be inclusive in nature meaning it could be awarded to a current or past member of any service from any country who excelled in service or achievement for PSYOP. It could also be awarded to civilians, veterans or deceased personnel who were nominated and selected.

It is envisioned that nominations would be submitted to a committee made up of representatives from the organizations noted above under the auspices of the PSYOP Regimental Association (PORA) which would serve as an umbrella organization serving the overall ommunity interest. Both POA and POVA would continue to function independently. POA concentrating on its stated mission of PSYOP education and POVA concentrating on its stated mission of holding reunions.

A US Army centric approach, focusing on excellence with the Army PSYOP branch, is progressing under the championship of the new CG of SWC. MG Thomas Crsnko (see assumed command of the JFK Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg on 28 June 2008. He has directed his staff to initiate a project for awards recognizing Army personnel in the PSYOP branch for their service and achievements. This award, tentatively named the St. Bernadine Medal, would be awarded in three classes: Gold, Silver and Bronze based on nominations processed through an ad hoc committee formed by SWC.

By way of background, the CG of SWC is considered the “Home Base Commander” and as such is the higher HQ for the PSYOP, CA and Special Forces Regiments. Consequently it can be argued that they are indeed the proponent for the PSYOP, CA and SF Branches.

The 4th POG has scheduled PSYOP Regimental week at Fort Bragg for 1 – 5 June 2009 and it is hoped that PSYOP award or awards can be presented during that week.

USACAPOC and SWC are working together to deconflict the issues surrounding the awards.

If you have any input or suggestions regarding awards within PSYOP, please comment on the Blog and I will be glad to pass them along if you would like. Any comment to the Blog must be approved by me prior to posting (so far I’ve posted every one I’ve gotten since the Blog started in 2007), so do not be concerned that your input will be posted automatically. If you’d rather correspond privately, say so in the comment and I’ll get back to you via return e-mail.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

PSYOP Surged in Afghanistan?

President Obama has agreed with SecDef Gates that a surge is what is needed in Afghanistan to turn the growing tide of violence and to deal with the annual Taliban spring offensive. Units that were scheduled to go to Iraq are being re-directed to Afghanistan with the popular opinion that “a surge worked in Iraq and by golly it ought to work in Afghanistan also.”

I’m reminded of the expression “ready to fight the last war”. Afghanistan has withstood the efforts of would be conquers for centuries, Pakistan is no more settled on its approach to the tribal no man’s land today than it was years ago. Is more troops the answer? I’m inclined to think not exactly.

Merely increasing the amount of US footprint might increase the security for a while, but unless there are fundamental changes in the Afghani tribal security picture, the economy and the government, a troop surge is like adding more crew to the Titanic.

Some fundamental questions need to be raised – which have hopefully been asked answered. Questions like:

Is there an overall information engagement plan for the country?

Have the vagaries of large numbers of disparate tribes with low levels of literacy or specialty dialects been factored into the overall plan?

Are PSYOP soldiers training with the newly redirected units?

Has the linguistic pool been increased to provide the larger force with the coverage they will need?

What lessons learned in Iraq can REALLY be applied to Afghanistan?

Will the low level of technology and mass media aid or hamper PSYOP and information engagement efforts?

Does it make sense to build up a journalistic infrastructure in Afghanistan? If so, under whose auspices?

Given that Afghanistan is a NATO mission will US training and doctrine easily mesh with other nations’?

Are multi-national exercises or combined-joint pre-deployment training planned?

Strikes me that the mission in Afghanistan is far more dangerous and far more complex than Iraq. Afghanistan lacks the urban clusters of Iraq and it’s ethnic composition is more of a mosaic than a simple bifurcation.

It’s clear to me that adaptation and innovation are key to success in Afghanistan. Perhaps we’ll need to mount some loudspeakers on the local transportation show above. (Photo courtesy of:

    Friday, February 13, 2009

    PSYOP in Afghanistan: 1 Warlord At A Time

    The Philadelphia Inquirer ran an article about Mr. Holbrooke’s visit to Afghanistan to craft President Obama’s ‘new’ strategy there. Having seen the results of Mr. Holbrooke’s efforts in Bosnia I’m sure he appreciates the order of magnitude of the challenge facing him – but even the fractious situation in Bosnia was neat and clean compared to Afghanistan. (

    Photo: USA Today (Chief Elders of the Korengal Valley, 30 Oct 08)

    Training and equipping security forces is a necessary and key part of the equation to success, but it is not the whole equation. Bosnia, like Gaul was divided into three ethnic groups: Bosniac (Moslem), Croat (Catholic) and Serb (Russian Orthodox). While the exact number of tribes is not necessarily know, a USA Today article found in a Google Search pegged the number at 400. (

    Assuming that is the case, and assuming that there is a new initiative, not necessarily a new strategy, but a new plan and allocation of resources, we need to go beyond mere messaging. Here are the steps I believe we need to take:

    1. Assess The Nature of Tribal Networks
    Divide the tribes into ‘nations’ and assess what kinds of concrete actions will enhance the government in the mind of the population in those nations. Actions need to go beyond security (which is a given and the baseline) and include medical, economic and social. Social actions need to be viewed through the eyes of the local population.

    2. Develop “Nation” and Tribal Action Plans
    Bring to bear all the resources of the USG in a concerted effort to appeal to the needs developed in the assessment. These might include: medcaps, micro-financing projects, agricultural advice and assistance, school or other public infrastructure repair, etc. Earmark the collection of projects by nation and location. Consider using Native American sociology experts to help formulate an appropriately culturally sensitive action plan – rely on successful tribal government models – not local, state or federal as the basis.

    3. Preselect and Train The Project Teams
    Insure that the project teams are intimately familiar with the culture and geography of their destinations. Include basic language training and if possible immerse interpreters into the training as early as possible. Include security force training and international to give stage front exposure to the Afghan forces.

    4. Prepare to Publicize Success
    Determine which nations are ‘allied’ with each other. Publicize success through tribal leaders. If appropriate encourage visits among tribal leaders so that they can see successful environments. Once local success has been assured, consider national publicity and of course international. Special attention should be paid to Aljazeera or other regional/international media that can influence the Arab world.

    5. Be Flexible
    Semper Gumby – always flexible (Gumby was a character made out of clay for those of you not familiar with him). Each tribal project will run into bumps and it follows that the ‘nation’ program (the collection of similar tribes) might have its hiccups as well. The point is that long term solutions require long term commitments and history has shown Afghanistan is one of those places where the race is a marathon – not a sprint.

    Tuesday, February 3, 2009

    PSYOP and the 2009 QDR

    DOD outlined the three major purposes of the QDR:
    1. Increase synergy across the Department’s Components.
    2. Improve the effectiveness of joint and interagency operations.
    3. Ensure the Department continues to efficiently invest the Nation’s defense resources to meet the asymmetric challenges of the 21st Century. The 2009 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) can be found at:

    PSYOP is mentioned twice in the 48 page document. Once in connection with the need to balance Active and Reserve Components for Irregular Warfare (p 12) and again with regard to Strategic Communication ( p 35)

    As to the former, “The Department concluded that persistent presence and sustainment of irregular warfare activities require increasing specific capabilities across the Total Force, including civil affairs and psychological operations capabilities in the Active Component force.” (emphasis added by your humble blogger)

    On one hand this would appear to be a blinding flash of the obvious, on the other, it’s nice to see recognition of the issue at the highest levels of DOD. Bottom line here is that the “Big Army” needs more CA and PSYOP support – in fact rather than being an add-on requested as needed, DOD has recognized that CA and PSYOP are as important as shooters, and perhaps even more so for irregular warfare. However, there’s not much of a bull pen to meet the increased demand, and the notion of increasing the size of forces amidst the worst financial crisis in decades will likely not sit well with either the new Administration or the voting public.

    DOD is faced with the need to mushroom these two vital capabilities without expanding the number of slots. Historically this has meant that the individual soldier has had to learn new skills and add them to their portfolio of talents. While not all soldiers can adapt to irregular warfare, nor can they adjust from being shooters to builders, it is clear that TRADOC will have to incorporate new doctrine into all branch training to insure at least a basic familiarity with CA and PSYOP concepts, principles and operations.

    With regard to Strategic Communication, the QDR reinforces and restates “We are committed to using our operational and informational activities and strategic communication processes in support of the Department of State’s broader public diplomacy efforts. This cooperation will better enable the U.S. Government to engage foreign audiences holistically and with unity of effort.”

    This lofty goal falls into the easier said than done box. In a world where the actions of a squad on the ground can be literally on the news around the world in minutes, a holistic effort doesn’t seem possible given the organizational constraints and the fact that Department of State influence does not necessarily extend very far beyond Embassy walls in hostile zones.

    One way to attack this problem is to develop country and regional Information Engagement (IE) teams. These teams would be run as a joint venture between State and Defense and managed by the senior person on the ground. USAID and other resources would be marshaled in concert with the team’s guidance and the overall goals and objectives would be set by State since they are the President’s Diplomats. DOD personnel would be tasked with providing support to the program through employment of DOD’s considerable PSYOP product development resources, PAO efforts not to mention security and logistics support.

    However, prior to embarking on such an ambitious goal, new rules of the road need to be establish that set metes and bounds, yet offer significant product flexibility on the far end so that USG forces can synergize their efforts to capitalize on events as they occur. The guidance offered must recognize that each theater is different so that tactical IE would vary by location, but overall messaging may not.

    Recognizing the instant nature of communications, regional and transnational IE must be orchestrated in a similar fashion. As I’ve stated before, IE should consist of a corporate like entity as well as regional and local information emissaries. The multi-national corporate model may be more of a guide than even the newest DOD TO&E.