Monday, April 20, 2009
Jamming The Taliban: A Good First Step?
The Wall Street Journal reported that US Forces are jamming Taliban FM radios and attempting to deny the Taliban use of Internet chat rooms. (See http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124001042575330715.html) The 18 April 09 article describes the use of jamming, more properly Electronic Counter Measures or ECM as PSYOP.
Photo of Army Tactical Jammer AN MLQ-24: http://www.emersons.net/worth-remembering-the-anmlq-34-tacjam.html
Technically speaking the use of Electronic Warfare (EW) to deny an adversary their communications is a PSYACT , an act designed to have a psychological impact. In the case of jamming, it is sometimes argued that the act of jamming confirms the success of the target’s efforts. In this case CENTCOM believes that denying the enemy their ability to communicate through FM broadcasting outweighs indirectly telling them that they have been successful.
This certainly makes sense since as we say in the law biz – res ipsa locquitir – the fact speaks for itself. The Taliban have been very successful in securing local support through thuggery. The use of village based FM radio is certainly a force multiplier from an information engagement perspective.
The geography of Afghanistan, like the geography of Bosnia is daunting. Mountains and valleys separate the country like the nooks and crannies of a Thomas’ English muffin. Independent FM radio stations are the ways that villages often hear the news and have given the Taliban a very cost effective medium for their messages.
Normally coalition forces seek their own influence by setting up their own FM radio stations. These stations generally offer a mix of music and messages and are designed to blend into the local radio spectrum. In Bosnia there was a NATO radio station in Sarajevo that covered that area with FM broadcasts. This station was manned and supervised by the HQ of the Combined Joint Information Campaign Task Force (CJICTF). This was proper in Bosnia since Sarajevo was not only the national capital, but a sort of city-state in its own right.
The case of Afghanistan is far more complex than Bosnia since there are few population centers and so many isolated villages. Conceptually each village requires special attention. The article talks about Chamkani, (readers interested in a 2007 first person account of Firebase Chamkani can check out: http://www.house.gov/marshall/Chamkani_Codel-pamphlet2007.pdf) and the voice of Chamkani a radio station covering the local area. Special Operations Forces have devoted significant attention to this are as documented in Special Operations magazine (http://www.soc.mil/swcs/swmag/09Jan.pdf)
The bottom line here is, if you are going to deny the enemy the radio (or television airwaves) then you need to fill in the vacuum you have created by harnessing them yourself.
Closing down the Internet communications is another matter. Somewhat akin to the game “Whack a Mole”, this requires more than content, it requires technical acumen and resources. Whereas FM radio operations can be delegated down to the PSYOP Platoon Level in many cases, this is not so with the Internet. Higher echelon capabilities will need to be employed to effectively deal with Internet communications such as websites and chat rooms. Further, since the Internet is borderless, there may be legal complications resulting from websites or chat rooms based in countries with strict laws regulating interference with computers and networks.