Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Waffling on Afghanistan Strategy Impacts PSYOP – Belies Separate Nature of Two Missions

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” ( 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” (

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.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The National Intelligence Strategy (NIS) and PSYOP

As an Military Intelligence Officer it was my job to help the CDR make better decisions by providing my best analysis of what the enemy was going to do and recommend (if asked) how to thwart those efforts. In essence the Director of National Intelligence has the same job, but for the President of the United States.

Key documents can be found:
• 2009 National Intelligence Strategy:
• 2009 National Intelligence Strategy Fact Sheet
• 2009 National Intelligence Strategy Frequently Asked Questions

Since the NIS represents intelligence thinking at the highest levels, it’s useful to review it from a PSYOP perspective and see what PSYOP can learn from it. The intelligence vision (Page 2) has a great deal of relevance to PSYOP. First of all, PSYOP must be integrated running from the most tactical of operations up through strategic communications. We too, must be agile especially since our adversaries have amply demonstrated their ability to play beyond rules and blow up the box, never mind think out of it. While PSYOP must also exemplify American’s values, for us in the community, the context means employ PSYOP lawfully to help accomplish the CDR’s mission. More often than not, PSYOPers will need to gain and maintain the trust of foreign audiences and media in addition to functioning as the consummate professional American soldier.
In assessing the strategic environment, PSYOP needs to consider how to address some of the newer and more unconventional PSYOP adversaries. Non-state actors, insurgents, violent extremists and transnational criminal organizations pose significant threats to the US and our interests. Some of these, such as insurgents and violent extremists are already on the PSYOP radar screen because of their presence in active conflicts such as Afghanistan and Iraq. While others, the non-state actors and transnational criminals present a different challenge because they are more difficult to locate and are less susceptible to traditional PSYOP and (at least to my knowledge) not the targets of significant PSYOP efforts. Some of our adversaries are highly focused in their targeting – we need to consider this in our actions as well.

Strikes me that the PSYOP force is not quite prepared to address these manifold challenges in part due to the fact that President Obama has not developed a comparable and overarching Information or Influence strategy to facilitate the integration of all US government informational and influence efforts to accomplish a set of high level goals and priorities.

So, while the intelligence community seems to be moving forward in a more orchestrated manner than ever before, the same cannot be said for the US Governments information and influence instruments.

Friday, September 11, 2009

PSYOP Done Right in Afghanistan

The September 10, 2009 article, “Information Ops in Afghanistan: Call Haji Shir Mohamad ASAP!” in Politics Daily ( shows how local PSYOP can have profound effects if done properly at the local level.

The article describes how Lt. Joseph Cardosi's phone tree goes into action to inform credible local leaders as to what is really going on quickly and candidly. The fact that the good LT has a phone tree is a credit to his (and perhaps his predecessor’s) ability to develop and maintain a solid relationship with local influence leaders.

While the Taliban may employ low powered mobile radio stations to broadcast their messages, LT Cardosi’s phone tree can make the targeted phone calls to help insure that local leaders are informed. Complementing this ‘direct marketing’ activity is a more indirect media – radio.

Since the illiteracy rate is very high in Afghanistan radio is the local media of choice because its messages, languages and news can be targeted to a very local audience. PSYOP forces employ radio (typically FM) by supporting a radio station actually located within Combat Outpost (COP) Zormat near the village of Kowti Keyh. According to the article, the station is “run by locally hip Afghan DJs” and that “U.S. troops regularly give out hand-crank-powered radios to villagers.”

Having a more powerful transmitter than the Taliban has the effect of being able to over power (or jam) their signal as described by the intrepid reporter:” That's not the only way to neutralize "enemy propaganda.'' One night, Cardosi and I climbed up a two-story tower to see if we could get the Taliban on a portable radio. Sure enough, at 96.1 FM, a Talib's harsh voice emerged through the crackling static, reading a religious lecture. Smiling broadly, Cardosi climbed down and had the more powerful U.S.-backed station shift its broadcasting frequency slightly to drown out the Taliban signal.”

The combination of direct relationships, well powered radio and flexibility to shift frequencies to in effect jam the Taliban is a great example of doing everything right and ought to be emulated wherever possible with whatever local variations are warranted.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Strategic Communications: Funding Little Old Grannies Who Wear Veils

It’s very hard to find something positive to say about Strategic Communications these days. Afghanistan and Iraq dominate the headlines and make the world appear to be a very bleak place.However, there are a couple of bright spots for those in Strategic Communications willing to think out of the box and take a longer range view than tomorrow’s headline. The September 3, 2009 Arts Section of the NY Times featured an article entitled: Dubai Superheros: Little Old Grannies Who Wear Veils ( Photo: NY Times
Mohammed Saeed Harib nor Freej, the United Arab Emirate’s (UAE) and therefore very likely the Middle East’s first 3-D animated series may not be as well known as the Simpsons or South Park, but the potential for the Grannie Superheros is worthy of note because it indicates a societal maturation. Societies that have a means to look at themselves and raise issues through ‘characters’ are better able to deal with issues and inequities thwarting the appeal of fundamentalism.

During my service in Bosnia it was clear to me that a free and credible media was a fundamental cornerstone of any nation. Citizens need to be informed and be able to dialog about their societies.

The next level of sophistication is another way for society’s to view themselves and that’s entertainment as a vehicle to address social issues. Freej cannot attack issues head on like The Simpsons or South Park and must of necessity is an indirect approach.

Supporting an entertainment venture like Freej might not seem like Strategic Communication – but it clearly is because as Freej and other forms of entertainment open up issues for discussion and perhaps potential action they can facilitate the positive transformation of a society.

Over time sociological entertainment from the UAE would likely be exported to other areas of the region and perhaps even spawn copy cat programs that would have a local spin, yet still have the positive effect of expanding societal expression.

I should also point out that Mr. Harib attended Northeastern University in Boston which has itself evolved from a commuter based university built on balancing work experience and academic study to one of the top 100 universities in the US, and oh yes, my Alma Mater!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Crucial Time for PSYOP in Afghanistan

The September 3, 2009 Wall Street Journal ran the editorial “The Afghanistan Panic
We can still win a counterinsurgency, but not on the cheap” ( and on the same day, the Washington Post ran a similar editorial: “Setback in Afghanistan: The right response is not a retreat.” ( Other articles include the NY Times of September 7, 2009 “Crux of Afghan Debate: Will More Troops Curb Terror?” ( and the September 7, 2009 Miami Herald “Clear mission in Afghanistan eludes Obama” (

Photo from the Associated Press (Wall Street Journal) U.S. soldiers secure the site of a suicide attack in Mehterlam, the capital of Laghman province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2009.

All of these address the need for more ‘boots on the ground’ as a means to implement General McChrystal’s latest strategy which is expected to center on protecting the Afghans against the insurgents.

There is a tendency to compare the current situation in Afghanistan with Iraq before the surge or with the quicksand like conflict known as Viet Nam. Resisting the urge for such comparisons, at least for the moment, let’s start out with what we do know:

1. Combat activity in Afghanistan is higher and more dangerous today than ever before.

2. The Afghan government is viewed as illegitimate and corrupt with the recent election serving more to degrade the government’s reputation with its people rather than bolster it.

3. Afghanistan is a combination of many different localities, each with its own tribal environment, level of security against the insurgent dejure, economic base and perspective on the Americans as the latest military force in the country.

4. The adversaries in Afghanistan have a primitive yet effective Information Operations campaign whereby they can quickly turn incidents such as air strikes and rumors into propaganda vilifying the Americans and reinforcing their high ground positions. Good example is the alleged hospital raid conducted by Americans (

5. Internet and media based messages (good or bad) don’t reach the average Afghan.

Given the above, there are a few things that ought to be done:

1. President Obama has to make it very clear that we are committed for the long haul and that our commitment must be matched by the wholesale cleansing and rededication of the Afghani government.

2. The nature of the mission and strategy in Afghanistan must be clear to everyone, especially to those on the ground so that an aggressive and responsive information engagement strategy and operational plans can be developed to support Commanders on the ground and up the chain of command.

3. DOD should consider fielding more Combat Camera units to capture video on the ground which can be used to confirm actual events and for training/lessons learned.

4. PSYOP needs to be integrated within a real time information engagement operating command section at the highest levels within Afghanistan (military and civilian). This section would have full has media reach via the with PAO. A dimension of the section’s responsibilities ought to be Pan-Regional and include access to all major Arab language outlets to include Aljazeera.
5. Bear in mind that only local relationships and credibility will impact the local village, orchestrate the tools of statecraft at the local level to reinforce the position of local leaders and influencers who are or can be induced to support the Afghani government and US efforts.

6. Should additional troops be assigned, insure that their PSYOP support is increased proportionally as well.

7. Focus on simplicity and attainable objectives at the local level.

Friday, September 4, 2009


I have just been advised that I have been selected to be the J9 for the annual Fall DINFOS JEPAC Exercise. I'm looking forward to it as a way of learning more about the role of the PAO and will enjoy being able to inject PSYOP into the play along with some other IO goodies if possible.

If you have participated in this exercise and/or have some comments, please note them in your comments and also indicate if you'd like me to share them or not.

Have a last great weekend of the summer of 2009.