Wednesday, May 13, 2009

McChrystal in Afghanistan: PSYOP Watershed Event?

The selection of LTG McChrystal as the new CG in Afghanistan has been profiled in a number of articles. In my view one of the best is “Manhunter to Take On A Wider Mission” in today’s Washington Post (see To be fair the NY Times ran a couple of articles today as well, but neither of them piqued my curiosity like the Post article. (AP photo from the Washington Post)

LTG McChrystal appears to be the ultimate SOF warrior. He has zero body fat, eats only 1 meal a day, disdains sleep, works his staff hard and can adapt in unconventional ways. Considered a success at hunting down and killing high profile targets, the general also got high marks for recasting the Joint Staff to make them more responsive.

The article also gives him substantial credit for his “reach well beyond military circles to build personal relationships with a wide range of civilian officials -- bringing together expertise in intelligence, forensics, finances and other fields in an interagency task force that strengthened his campaign against the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq.”

From a PSYOP perspective the most telling paragraph in the article is this one: “One critical task for McChrystal, military officers said, will be to more closely integrate the efforts of the growing number of conventional troops and Special Operations forces in Afghanistan, where 47,000 U.S. and 33,000 non-U.S. troops now serve. That will require balancing the mission of killing and capturing Taliban insurgents with the broader work of protecting the population.”

PSYOP forces are from split organizations. The 4th PSYOP Group, the only active duty group supports the Special Operations Forces (SOF) while the 2nd PSYOP Group and the 7th PSYOP Group, both USAR, support conventional forces. This bifurcated chain of command has led to differences in training, preparation and equipment. Further, the operational tempo has been merciless with USAR PSYOP Units re-deploying after only 18 months at home.

In previous postings I’ve maintained that Afghanistan is nothing like Iraq. Key differences include Afghanistan’s rural dispersed nature and its history of repelling invaders. The pocketization of the Taliban and the porous Afghan/Pakistani border add more differences.

Another difference is that PSYOP must be localized and continuous and that there does not appear to be a means to apply a uniform effort across the country. Successful PSYOP in Afghanistan will nurture local relationships and bring to bear other aspects of state craft to sway the local population.

What does all this mean for LTG McChrystal? First of all his new and invigorated staff will have to put a higher degree of emphasis on non-lethal, unconventional planning. They will have to orchestrate all of the elements of support (military, political, economic, Informational, etc.) in multiple simultaneous efforts. Given the limited nature of PSYOP forces, these activities will require assessing PSYOP forces across the AO and perhaps adopting a more homogenized approach in their employment. An approach that considers all PSYOP forces capable of executing their missions and one that seeks to bolster the weaknesses of part of the force with the strengths of the balance of the force.

Lessons will need to be learned quickly and immediately assimilated into training, tactics and procedures. In addition it may be necessary to beef up the pace of equipping the PSYOP forces in Afghanistan with COTS products that can be employed effectively in a distributed fashion and that provide quick response capability.

Unless LTG McChrystal quickly endeavors to level the PSYOP force capabilities he will find that he will have untoward difficulties in his accomplishing his mission.


Anonymous said...

One thing that needs to be emphasized and understood as well is a more empiric understanding and segmenting of different groups there. When someone says, "Taliban," they are usually referring to about 5 difference groups, some of whom are not Taliban. You have warlords that fought the Soviets that are now fighting us, because we are the new foreign invaders.
Only PSYOP has the ability to gain an inductive understanding of who these groups represent, segment them, and control information in a way that will highlight their differences, and help commanders know which groups are radical fundamentalists and which see themselves as freedom fighters or just war profiteers.

SGT Holden 341st Psyop

Lawrence Dietz said...

Thanks SGT Holden - good to get feedback from the field since y'all are the ones who really know what is going on!

Elective Affinities said...

It's comforting to know that General McChrystal is in town, so to speak. He is intelligent and energetic enough to listen and learn from the best, including those in PSYOP. On the other hand, this is a guy who is brutally serious about success, so I think BS-avoidance strategy will be best. No generalizations from the past, PSYOP -- tell us what you know about today's situation, or get outta the way.