Friday, August 14, 2009

New AF Small Unit Tactics Handbook: Good Job, But Weak On PSYOP

A number of the media covered stores about the release of Handbook 09-37, Small Unit Ops In Afghanistan (see for example: It’s been a slow week for PSYOP stories so I decided to track down a copy of this new publication and give it a look-see.
Overall I felt this was an incredibly well done publication. The style was inviting, there were some very good photos and above all it really did a fine job of conveying the humanity and passion of the Afghan people. The culture section in particular did a very solid job of explaining do’s and don’ts in an easy to understand and non-judgmental way. The emphasis is on remote villages, but soldiers assigned to urban areas can benefit from the guidance, checklists, CP info, etc.
The Handbook provides some very basic salesmanship guidance such as having predetermined Talking Points which should be used to convey very simple messages. The nature of the geography and village life and culture are very well portrayed. It also does well to convey the differences between Afghanistan and Iraq and the need to respect the adversary’s fighting skills, local area knowledge, etc.

Given that this is for squads and platoons, there is no mention of PSYOP at all. In terms of preparation and planning, the phrase ‘drinking from a fire hose’ would not be out of place to describe the amount of material presented.

One of the important nuances that are not addressed in the Handbook is the challenge of trying to collect intelligence while developing relationships. This is a complex problem. The leaders developing relationships must concentrate on that task and that ask only. It is hard enough to work through an interpreter to convey your true intent without trying to multi-task. My recommendation is to always work in teams. The principal team member concentrates on communicating while the others are performing observation and security duties.
Having said all this, the term “PSYOP” doesn’t even appear once. There is little attention paid to the importance of influencing people in the AO and there are no references on how to get PSYOP support through the chain of command or how to work with Tactical PSYOP Teams (TPT) should they appear in the AO.

We don’t think of PSYOP as an Infantry Company weapons system yet we are mindful of how individual or small unit combat mistakes can turn into fodder for enemy PSYOP and Strategic Communications in a heartbeat. There needs to be some PSYOP training in the handbook and the call for PSYOP fire should be as ingrained in the warfighter mentality as how call to for a Medevac. While I realize there is a supply and demand problem possibility, the fact remains that the ultimate victory in Afghanistan will be when the population is secure and self-sufficient.
Accordingly I offer a couple of recommendations:
1. SWC needs to provide a short insert concerning PSYOP into the culture section of the manual. This should include references and proper procedure for requesting PSYOP support through the Chain of Command.

2. SWC should consider posting a UTube video cover the above.

3. SWC should provide a curriculum to warfighter schoolhouses such as Fort Benning to include PSYOP in basic and advanced training.

4. A guidebook “PSYOP Skills for Squad Leaders” should be developed ASAP. It should contain very practical sales advice such as found in the book “Secrets of Closing the Sale” by Zig Ziglar.
5. A technique should be developed and standardized that depicts the local attitude with respect to ISAF and the Afghani government in a simple red, yellow, green methodology.
6. Request procedure for PSYOP support included as a part of Fire Support assets.

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