Monday, July 20, 2009

Threats Are Wrong in Afghanistan – Everyone Has Their Price

According to an article from CBS (see: the PSYOP Campaign surrounding the recovery of the captured American Soldier is employing a threat theme. The leaflets promise that those who harm the soldier or hinder recovery efforts “will be targeted”.

While I have never been to Afghanistan, I have been a long time student of conflict, PSYOP and persuasion. I believe the right approach is a reward. It seems pretty clear to me that the Afghan people are proud and independent. The Taliban success over the Russians is certainly powerful evidence that they are not easily cowered and will not succumb to threats.

The reward approach offers the ability to take advantage of available resources and has, in my view, a limited potential for a negative impact of increased resistance or generating hostility. A reward campaign would also have the potential secondary effect of generating tips or intelligence that might be useful for other purposes.

It is my impression that, overall, the Afghans maintain a negative impression of the allied forces. I don’t believe that leaflets picturing US soldiers in a positive light will be able to alter this impression especially when they are accompanied by threats of violence.

Even though recovery of the captured soldier is a high priority tactical operation, it is critical to maintain a perspective on long range goals and build a positive impression. The Allies must focus on maintaining a positive ‘brand image’. This image has to portray the Allied force as a resource for the Afghani people and a means to bring security, prosperity, and stability to the country.
Our efforts, especially the errant airstrikes have galvanized certain segments of the Afghani population against the allied efforts, if we lose focus and appear as a bully, any forward progress will be lost.

As Mao once said: “The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea.”, only by making the fish smell can the counter insurgency hope to succeed.


Anonymous said...

This sounds like "psyop by good idea." I wonder if the people that came up with this strategy determined whether threats were at all credible with their TA before putting out that message.

Trying to brand the allies positively, and the Taliban negatively might not work either though. The message that psyop puts out must be consistent with the actions of our ground forces. Because, psyop these days is subordinate to ground force commanders, it would be much more effective and credible to adjust the message with the reality of their behavior. If they want to come off as scary and our forces as the kind of army you don't want to mess with, then the message should portray that, regardless of whether or not it is good strategic strategy.
The worst thing that could happen would be to have ground commanders acting like hard-ass killers, and the psyop message branding them as something else.
Psyop is putting out the message that Gen. McCristal is putting out, but if the actual forces on the ground don't follow that message then it's a waste of time.
The other thing I think we need to be honest about is the actual level of support for the Taliban. We like to believe that everyone is against them, because we are the good guys, etc... but this is naive. How do people really view us vs. them. This requires a cold hard look at both us and them, and not something spun for the American people.

SGT Holden, 37F

Lawrence Dietz said...

Great comment - thanks!