Friday, August 27, 2010

PSYOP and Iraq: It Ain’t Over Yet

Notwithstanding declarations touting the end of combat operations in Iraqi, the influence war is far from over. Seemingly coordinated attacks across the country are sending forceful and graphic messages to Iraqis that their lives remain perilous. (Photo: NY Times)

With the withdrawal of the Warfighter, influence operations must take on a new flavor and tempo. Unlike Afghanistan which is mostly tribal and rural, Iraq has significant urban centers. These centers are served by local and regional media to include TV. In many quarters of these cities there are even likely (I haven’t been there so I can’t say for sure) Internet cafes and ISPs serving a growing body of Internet and smart phone users.

Iraq serves as a laboratory for future conflict. Military Information Support Operations (MISO) must now TRULY be in support – but this time of diplomatic efforts to thwart the insurgency and raise the conscious of Iraqis. Security is no longer just the problem of government. Citizens need to be more vigilant and supportive of their fledgling police and security forces. Aggressive influence operations are needed to mobilize the support of the population.

The people of Iraq need to dry up the sea of support that allows the insurgents to move freely. The government should help the process by maintaining truly anonymous channels of communications to allow citizens to provide tips on the enemy without fear of retribution.

DOD information support can and ought to come in several ways: First, PSYOP personnel can augment and assist State Department through the embassy and its outreach efforts. PAO personnel can facilitate the Iraqi media and in concert with the State Department, aid in the maturing of a potent and objective media that can inform and help the Iraqis defeat their insurgent. Other avenues could include training Iraqi MISO and PAO personnel and facilitating working arrangements between these Iraqi government personnel with local and regional media.

In addition to these programs, Strategic Communications efforts aimed at the Region should be undertaken via the Internet and other channels designed to ‘reach the street’.

The bottom line is that the influence war needs to ramp up even more than during combat and that all government instrumentalities need to be brought to bear under a clearly articulated strategy and with a mindset to learning on the fly. Lessons learned over the next few years should not have to be relearned in new influence battlefields where ever they may be.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Balancing Long Term Success Over Short Term OpTempo

Blog Entry, 17 August 2010

Balancing Long Term Success Over Short Term OpTempo

Normally my Blog entries are keyed off current events, today will be different.

There can be no denying the danger of Afghanistan, the peril of Iraq or the global financial uncertainty. There is still a dither about the PSYOP/MISO name change and SecDef Gates has announced that he would like to leave the job in 2011.

Today’s message to the community that even though the storms are swirling around us we need to step back for a moment and examine long term goals and we need to do so with a perspective shaped by our history and legacy.

Senior leaders and NCOs are the stewards of our craft, they are responsible for insuring that influence operations, by whatever name, continues to serve the Warfighter and evolves as the environment and enemy resolves. Issues that deserve our collective attention include (not necessarily in priority order):

1. How can we be more effective in having the President and Congress understand the importance of what we do at the strategic, operational and tactical levels?
2. How can we insure the personal welfare of our soldiers and their families during these times of high OpTempo?
3. How do we prepare for the ‘drawdown’ that will come sooner or later?
4. How do we engage with our peer disciplines such as CNO and PAO to dominate the information battlefield?
5. Are there novel ways to deal with the chronic shortfall of competent linguistic skills?
6. What is the optimal level of emphasis on the Internet, Smart Phones and technology of the future in our media mix?
7. How can service differences be synergized rather than be divisive?
8. Is it time for SOCOM to step up to the plate and be a joint proponent and sponsor of influence operations across the board?
9. How can we streamline the influence operations chain of command and insure appropriate standards across the force?
10. How can we employ distance learning, cross service training, civilian higher education and skills training to create an innovative, dynamic and rewarding career path?

I look forward to lively dialogue with the community. Regimental Week is in October, let’s insure we make the most of it.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Gen X Taliban – No Easy Target for PSYOP

“Taliban X: The next generation of terrorists” appeared in the August 10, 2010 edition of the Washington Examiner ( talks about the up and coming teenagers and 20 somethings who are turning to martyrdom over conventional insurgency activities. This is a troubling, but not surprising development.

Photo source:
Baby elephants are staked down at an early age to train them not to wander. Even when they are fully grown and can easily pull out the stake, they still adhere to their childhood experiences. The ‘generation gap’ has been around as long as there have been parents and children. These children, like many Palestinians, have had the personalities forged by the cauldron if a hard life growing up in the squalor of refugee camps. Their idea of ‘normal’ has been the result of their environment and perception formed of their tormentors and enemies.

Their reference frame is a function of this desperation and they become relatively easy marks for recruiters who offer an escape path and can appeal to emotion via an intellectual and spiritual path. According to the article, “Terrorist groups from Pakistan and foreign fighters from Saudi Arabia, Palestine and elsewhere have sown a form of jihad that resonates among the younger generation, officials told The Washington Examiner.”

The article quotes unnamed officials as saying that the jihadist creed espoused by foreign fighters is more appealing. I have a different take, I think the Xers are seeking paths that are different from their parents because they have built up frustration and disdain during the lives and are seeking a way out.

The depth of commitment and the lack of suitable alternative reference frames and alternatives makes this new force a very difficult influence target. A target that, IMHO, is not susceptible to third party messages, but must be worked with by charismatic figures that are close to their age, have experienced the same early life, but have found other paths out of it.

Credibility is key here and the new champion must have the ethnic street credibility of the target otherwise any messages or efforts to redirect the individual messages will fail.

Having described a potential counter measure, the issue becomes who is responsible? The proper answer would be the Afghan government. However, as a practical matter that should doesn’t seem to fly. Are there ‘warlords’ who are current or potential allies? If so, this alternative can be a good one because they have the credibility and access.

While the issue is an important one, I am not of the opinion that it can be addressed by either ISAF or the Department of State.
Alternatively I wonder how or if the Israeli government has addressed this issue and if they have had any experiences, positive or negative, that they are sharing with appropriate authorities.

No matter what is happening on the ground, we must be certain that SWC is integrating this challenge into the curriculum so that our soldiers can recognize the phenomena in the field and deal with it as best they can employing the trademark ingenuity of American soldiers.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Taliban Ought to Teach at SWC and the State Department

In the past week I received tips on two interesting articles on how the Taliban are wining the influence war (notice how I cleverly avoided using either PSYOP or MISO). One was a May 3, 2010 Article from Time (Why the Taliban Are Winning the Propaganda War @,8599,1895496,00.html) and the other an August 2, 2010 article from All Voices (Taliban use of psychological warfare techniques in Afghanistan @ Photo Source: Time Magazine

Both articles are pretty good and point to some reasons why the Taliban are indeed winning. The more recent article is especially important because it claims to be based on a review of the recent documents leaked by Wikileaks and given the report number citations appears well documented. Here are my thoughts on why the Taliban are winning.

First of all they have a streamlined approval cycle and a unified chain of command for influence operations. This means they can get their messages out sooner.

Secondly, the Karzai Administration is even worse than the Obama Administration when it comes to influence war strategy and operations.

Third – the Taliban is far more credible and can be more locally focused through their shadow governments and local warlords who are able to back up their threats of violence with the promised horrific results.

Fourth – they seem to know their target audience better than we do as evidenced by their appeals to nationalism and patriotism.

Fifth – they employ a wide range of media designed for maximum reach to their various target audiences.

Sixth – they appear to beat the Western media at its own game by skillfully manipulating events and perceptions in their favor.

While they lack iPads and the latest technology, the Taliban have proven that are a formidable opponent who also has the weapon of time on their side. Perhaps we need to consider ‘out of the box’ ways to thwart their efforts and the US and Afghan government influence agents need to get on the same page – now!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

USAID to Increase Media Efforts in Afghanistan – Confusion About Roles and Names Continues

The Washington Post is often considered a flashlight into the darkness of government operations. Based in DC their strong suit ought to be government related stores just as the LA Times focuses on Entertainment and the San Jose Mercury News Silicon Valley. Having said that, the August 3, 2010 article, “USAID looks to expand its media-building efforts in Afghanistan” by Walter Pincus is ripe with confusion as to names, functions and responsibilities. (See

A quote from the article goes like this: “A Pentagon official recently provided an example related to the Defense Department budget next year. It calls for spending $180 million on "psychological operations" in Afghanistan and Iraq, a category once known as strategic communications.”Apparently the name change from PSYOP to MISO hasn’t made it all the way over to the Post and Mr. Pincus hasn’t the slightest idea of what Strategic Communications really is.

Pincus goes on to give a definition without a source and claims that these Pentagon sponsored activities “are almost all run by contractors”. Apparently the concept of PSYOP military forces has eluded him as well.

A free and influential media is an important element in democracies especially where the citizenry has access to the media and the ability to understand it. The USAID program would appear to be geared to urban based media in the larger cities. Notwithstanding the fact that population growth is expected to be the greatest in urban areas (see I question whether this is the best use of these funds at this time.

It is also abundantly clear that the PSYOP name change is not the biggest challenge we face in the community. The general lack of awareness of the critical work performed by PSYOP Groups coupled with a muddled view of government influence operations in general are our biggest concerns.

Monday, August 2, 2010

You Can Only Win If You Know What Game You Are Playing

A quote about Viet Nam attributed to President Lyndon Johnson caught my eye this morning “"I can't win, and I can't get out." (see the August 1, 2010 issue of the Beast @ Photo source is the same.

The author, Leslie H. Gelb, director of the Pentagon Papers project, argues that President Obama should take heed of the quote and learn from it because he is in the same boat with regard to Afghanistan.

If you don’t know where you are going you surely do not know how to get there. The Obama policy in Afghanistan is still not clear. The ‘doves’ epitomized by Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, are pushing for a fast pace of withdrawal in line with the President’s previously announced deadline. Others in the Administration, such as Secretary Gates, have different views.

This leaves influence operations (PSYOP, MISO take your pick) in a very precarious position because a lack of an accepted and cohesive strategy clouds the nature of tactical missions. Troops on the ground need clear mission statements and goals. As the banter between @Salil and myself has shown over the past few weeks, there is a very significant gap between the lofty goals, strategies and policies at the top and the job of the solider on the ground.

The President and the Chain of Command owe us clear Commander’s Guidance. What is the goal in Afghanistan? At best we can only alter the conditions there a small bit. We cannot build a primordial state into a 21st Century democracy. We must respect the culture and the religious structure because it is their country after all.

If the goal is rooting out insurgency, we must be mindful that most of the fighters are Afghans and will be there after we leave. In the meanwhile the dedicated men and women of the PSYOP Community will have the day to day job of working with the Afghani people and facilitating the secure environment needed to help them build worthwhile and satisfying lives within their own cultural sphere and without violence to others.

If Admiral Olson’s pledge to re-cast influence operations on all levels is to be fulfilled it must be resourced and start now!