Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Converting the Taliban – A Worthy PSYOP Effort

The 21 Nov 09 edition of the LA Times carried an article about what it termed ‘a fledgling effort to convince the Taliban to turn in their weapons and turn away from violence in return for jobs and security (see http://www.latimes.com/news/nation-and-world/la-fg-afghan-taliban23-2009nov23,0,2892908.story). The article described how this program was patterned after a similar program in Iraq, the Sons of Iraq, which was widely credited with reducing the level of violence there.

Photo from the LA Times, (Reza Shirmohammadi / AFP/Getty Images / November 21, 2009)
PSYOP support to this program and similar ones is critical and support of these programs can pay dividends in other ways as well. While I’ve never been to Afghanistan, it’s my belief that the Taliban are for the most part Afghanis and as such have a long term interest in their country. Furthermore, the Taliban are representative of the beliefs and values of many more Afghani citizens as evidenced by the kind of popular support they seem to enjoy in many parts of the country.

The Taliban and their fellow Afghanis hold certain beliefs about the purpose and long term goals of the American presence there. Unless we are able to shift these believes, a satisfactory end game in Afghanistan will continue to remain elusive. By showing that our intent is to help the Afghanis establish a secure and comfortable (by their standards, not ours) lifestyle we would go a long way to setting the foundation for an invigorated Afghanistan.

PSYOP efforts here should be a combination of direct and indirect messaging. Direct messaging should very definitely include true success stories showing how individuals made the decision to renounce violence and how they are now living secure and prosperous lives. Personifying the success and putting the average Afghani, especially the Taliban, in the picture of a more satisfying and secure life will help others visualize themselves in that enviable position.

Indirect messaging should show Afghanistan without the American forces and urge citizen cooperation to help get to that point by renouncing violence, engaging in peaceful livelihoods and helping to root out corruption in the Karzai government at all levels.

Given the agrarian nature of Afghanistan and the likely parallel push to replace the poppy as a major crop, there needs to be a parallel program of offering short and long term assistance to poppy farmers so that they can successfully transition from poppies to another crop. This program is likely to require a combination of assistance up front along with seasonally oriented agricultural resources and education. Care must be taken not to over rely on capital equipment for the new crops since that equipment will be difficult and expensive to maintain and to blend the new crops into the culture and lifestyle of the local farmers.

This kind of dual pronged positive PSYOP coupled with the resources to keep the promise of the programs will go a long way to establishing the stability that will facilitate an end game in Afghanistan.

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