Friday, February 13, 2009

PSYOP in Afghanistan: 1 Warlord At A Time

The Philadelphia Inquirer ran an article about Mr. Holbrooke’s visit to Afghanistan to craft President Obama’s ‘new’ strategy there. Having seen the results of Mr. Holbrooke’s efforts in Bosnia I’m sure he appreciates the order of magnitude of the challenge facing him – but even the fractious situation in Bosnia was neat and clean compared to Afghanistan. (

Photo: USA Today (Chief Elders of the Korengal Valley, 30 Oct 08)

Training and equipping security forces is a necessary and key part of the equation to success, but it is not the whole equation. Bosnia, like Gaul was divided into three ethnic groups: Bosniac (Moslem), Croat (Catholic) and Serb (Russian Orthodox). While the exact number of tribes is not necessarily know, a USA Today article found in a Google Search pegged the number at 400. (

Assuming that is the case, and assuming that there is a new initiative, not necessarily a new strategy, but a new plan and allocation of resources, we need to go beyond mere messaging. Here are the steps I believe we need to take:

1. Assess The Nature of Tribal Networks
Divide the tribes into ‘nations’ and assess what kinds of concrete actions will enhance the government in the mind of the population in those nations. Actions need to go beyond security (which is a given and the baseline) and include medical, economic and social. Social actions need to be viewed through the eyes of the local population.

2. Develop “Nation” and Tribal Action Plans
Bring to bear all the resources of the USG in a concerted effort to appeal to the needs developed in the assessment. These might include: medcaps, micro-financing projects, agricultural advice and assistance, school or other public infrastructure repair, etc. Earmark the collection of projects by nation and location. Consider using Native American sociology experts to help formulate an appropriately culturally sensitive action plan – rely on successful tribal government models – not local, state or federal as the basis.

3. Preselect and Train The Project Teams
Insure that the project teams are intimately familiar with the culture and geography of their destinations. Include basic language training and if possible immerse interpreters into the training as early as possible. Include security force training and international to give stage front exposure to the Afghan forces.

4. Prepare to Publicize Success
Determine which nations are ‘allied’ with each other. Publicize success through tribal leaders. If appropriate encourage visits among tribal leaders so that they can see successful environments. Once local success has been assured, consider national publicity and of course international. Special attention should be paid to Aljazeera or other regional/international media that can influence the Arab world.

5. Be Flexible
Semper Gumby – always flexible (Gumby was a character made out of clay for those of you not familiar with him). Each tribal project will run into bumps and it follows that the ‘nation’ program (the collection of similar tribes) might have its hiccups as well. The point is that long term solutions require long term commitments and history has shown Afghanistan is one of those places where the race is a marathon – not a sprint.

1 comment:

SGT Holden, 341st said...

This is a good post. Unfortunately most of the psyop guys at the tactical level, including captains, don't understand the fluid nature of culture. They are still trained to think of culture as something static, like a marketer rather than an anthropologist. We need better training to understand and assess things more inductively on the ground.

You write: "Social actions need to be viewed through the eyes of the local population."

That is, if they think of this stuff at all. Unfortunately, most guys on TPT's couldn't tell you the difference between an inductive vs. deductive approach and have no tools to assess such things, unless they have outside, formal educations in a social science.
I'll know when the Pentagon actually begins to take psyop seriously when the army requires more than an above average ASAB and the ability to jump out of a plane.
Our education and training needs to be longer and more rigorous when it comes to actual psyop, not just PT.
It also needs to be more selective, in that some guys just aren't meant for the work. We are so hard up for psyopers, but a psyoper not good at psyop is just a pamphlet disseminater.