The recent waffling by the Obama Administration on the strategy for Afghanistan will have a significant dampening effect on the PSYOP effort. PSYOP, like marketing is cumulative. The nature of Afghanistan with its nooks and crannies of tribes and its unforgiving terrain makes the battle for mindspace even more troublesome than in Iraq. The time consuming task of relationship building is paramount.
It would appear that there are two alternative courses of action being considered in Afghanistan. Background can be found in a September 22, NY Times article “Obama Considers Strategy Shift in Afghan War” (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/23/world/asia/23policy.html?ref=world) and elsewhere.
Counter Terrorist Strategy
The strategy shift advocated by VP Biden (how he has risen to the level of military strategist is beyond me) is to focus on counter-terrorism. Employ Special Forces, drones, etc. to root out Al Qaeda thereby making American safer from terrorist attacks. Apparently VP Biden proposed this strategy in March as well.
Concentrate on Population Centers
MG McChrystal has told his subordinates to concentrate on populated areas. Background found in the Washington Post article, September 22, 2009 “U.S. Commanders Told to Shift Focus to More Populated Areas” (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2009/09/21/AR2009092103704.html?wpisrc=newsletter)
From a military perspective, it seems to me that the President needs to appreciate the fact that there are two different missions. While the end game of reducing America’s vulnerability to terrorist attacks may be the same for either approach -- there are still two missions.
The first mission is to locate and destroy Al Qaeda and their allies wherever they may reside. Media reports and conventional wisdom seems to indicate that this mission is centered on the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan and often shifts into Pakistani territory. The nature of PSYOP and other elements of influence in this mission are far different from the tasks in Afghanistan. Of necessity targeting in the anti-terrorist mission must be precise, the means varied and the ways innovative. PSYOP via advanced technologies coupled with CNO, EW and other disciplines ought to be aggressively employed. It could be argued that MG Chrystal’s Special Forces experience makes him the perfect orchestrator for such an effort.
The mission inside Afghanistan is quite a bit different. That mission, simply stated is to stabilize the environment within the country to insure that the Taliban is not able to assume control of any portion of the country that would enable Al Qaeda to establish and maintain a safe haven. This is the counter insurgency (COIN) mission and will only succeed if coupled with a robust PSYOP effort.
The challenge to victory is great since the Karzai government has done little to enhance its own legitimacy and to serve the needs of the Afghani people. Consequently, the diplomatic aspect of the Afghanistani mission is to foster good government in spite of ages of corruption and an apparently flawed election.
There is great peril should the Administration embrace the counter terrorism mission and ignore the counter insurgency mission. Ignoring the current flammable situation in Afghanistan and abandoning efforts to thwart the Taliban from gaining power footholds is tantamount to giving Al Qaeda and our other enemies a clear path to establishing safe havens. Once this happens, it will only be a matter of time until the terrorists reach the critical mass needed to launch another attack.