Tuesday, November 10, 2009

PSYOP in Peshawar – How Do Can you Deal With the Irrational?

November 7, 2009’s Washington Post ran an article: In Peshawar, state of denial over market attack culprits, there were also two subtitles for the article: MANY BLAME 'FOREIGN HANDS' and 'Taliban would never do this terrible thing' (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/06/AR2009110604207.html).

Photo by Pamela Constable - TWP as appeared in The Washington Post

The gist of the article is that the local Population in Peshawar, Pakistan blames the US among others for the rash of civilian deaths caused by bombs and refuses to believe that the Taliban could so such terrible things to them.

This is quite a PSYOP problem, one that made me harken back to my first set of sales training courses. From a classic marketing perspective, the US needs to position the Taliban as the bad guys in order to induce the local population to stop supporting them thereby beheading the insurgency. Sales philosophy says you try and take objections to your proposition and turn them into questions.

In this case, we want to say “Obviously you have a reason for saying that the Taliban would never do such a terrible thing, may I ask what it is?” If the answer is rational, they would come up with a statement such as they are our countrymen and would never do such a terrible thing.

The next step would be to say, “ just suppose for a moment that I could prove that the Taliban were responsible using objective evidence, would you believe it?” Logical individuals would typically agree that they would do so. Illogical or irrational people would not.
Unfortunately I’m afraid the irrationals are the majority in the AfPak AO. Our enemies have done a magnificent job of bolstering the Taliban reputation through local action to the point where the voice of logic falls on deaf ears.

Having said this, the challenge becomes to build the pile of emotional evidence to such a height that on one could deny its validity. This is not an easy task. I believe the answer is personification. We need to put a credible, believable and sympathetic face to voice this message. Credible eye witnesses, relatives of Taliban suicide bombers, ex-Taliban members, clerics familiar with the Taliban atrocities are all good candidates. Recruiting them will not be easy and there is no free lunch.

A combination of incentives whether direct payment or community projects or contracts for particular families, tribes or companies must be brought to bear to recruit individuals who can deliver the message credibly. If we are not able to cut off popular support to the Taliban than all of our efforts will be for naught.

1 comment:

Rick said...

I'm left wondering if this is even possible. It would seem unreal if we psychological operators actually had some authority and control about what is put out, and operational strategy. Without these things, we are just spinning our wheels.

Good training for psy operators would be to spend time in places in the US they normally don't spend time. We live in an incredibly segregated society (more now than in 1950), and just hanging out in an urban slum can be very unsettling for someone, especially when it gets dark, and you find the lights aren't so well lit.
People say we should get missions to SOUTHCOM, etc... to get operational experience before missions, but in reality you only have to drive a few miles in most cases.
You can hang out with people that distrust and dislike you just because of the way you look. People that don't trust the government, and don't believe a word of anything a politician will ever tell them. Rumor and conspiracy is the norm, and if you don't believe the rumors, then you are "just naive."

As an urban anthropologist, I spend much of my time doing just that. I see daily, the massive disconnect between the political elites and the people in this country, and it seems overwhelming, so when someone tells me to figure out how to convince someone who doesn't like me, wants me to go away, doesn't want to be like me, doesn't trust me, etc... in a place like Afghanistan in a 12 month rotation, then I'd say that they are dreaming a fairytale.

We can't even get health care reform in the US without so much misinformation, and people so manipulatable, that they are walking around with signs comparing reform to the Nazi holocaust.

Until psyop is action and behavior first, and a message reinforcing it second, it will not be successful. But we aren't there, because we don't care about Afghans and they know it.

We are doing the impossible, and the army ties our hands.