Thursday, March 22, 2012

Iraq Lessons Learned and PSYOP/MISO

I teach a number of military subjects on-line. For the past two weeks my Tactical Intelligence class has been analyzing “Operation Anaconda”. One of the key points about that operation is that CENTCOM was so focused on Iraq that it didn’t properly deal with events in Afghanistan at the time.

Since we are now so focused on Iraq I thought it appropriate to apply a set of lessons learned from that conflict to US Strategy, Policy and PSYOP/MISO going forward. The source of the list of lessons learned and the photo is an article “Top 10 Lessons of the Iraq War” published by Foreign Policy on March 20, 2012(See,0) I’ve listed them below. Readers are encouraged to read the full article.

I’ve put my comments and thoughts under each of the lessons learned. The order of the lessons was that in the article.

Lesson #1: The United States lost.

Win or lose PSYOP will be engaged in the conflict likely before starts and certainly after it ends. PSYOP success is measured day by day in the effects induced on the target population. While its always better to win rather than lose, PSYOP success can come even in the face of an overall US loss.

Lesson #2: It's not that hard to hijack the United States into a war.

The article postulates that the entry into the war was driven by neo-conservatives. It stands for the principle that civilians in government and those that influence government will drive military action. It is therefore difficult to predict the military actions of the future and to plan the force that will be required to execute the lawful orders and missions given to them. MISO optempo in particular is likely to be high during conflict and training qualified personnel will take longer than the time frame to employ them.

Lesson #3: The United States gets in big trouble when the "marketplace of ideas" breaks down and when the public and our leadership do not have an open debate about what to do.

This relates to debates inside the US – an area where PSYOP/MISO does not go. No comment.

Lesson #4: The secularism and middle-class character of Iraqi society was overrated.

Good intelligence, especially about unfamiliar places is hard to come by. Good intelligence is a prerequisite to effective MISO. This also applies to cultural and linguistic ability. MISO needs a process whereby we can quickly and efficiently find competent and vetted resources that can be factored into MISO to supplement the available force.

Lesson #5: Don't listen to ambitious exiles.

See Lesson #4

Lesson #6: It's very hard to improvise an occupation.

Public information is critical. PAO and MISO need to reinforce each other while staying in their respective lanes. An ultimate objective of ‘an occupation’ is to act to nurture a free and informed information environment. MISO can at as a catalyst by working with Department of State and our Coalition allies to grow host country media.

Lesson #7: Don't be surprised when adversaries act to defend their own interests, and in ways we won't like.

Nowhere is this clearer than on the Internet. The ubiquity of cell phones and the speed Internet distribution feed a 7 x 24 media environment. Amateur videos, whether real or faked, make lasting impressions. It is clearly foreseeable that Cyber Influence will be a factor in future conflicts. It is also abundantly clear that our enemies will not play by our rules. This means we will need a more robust counter propaganda capability than ever before and that this capability cannot be hamstrung by lengthy and convoluted approval cycles and processes.

Lesson #8: Counterinsurgency warfare is ugly and inevitably leads to war crimes, atrocities, or other forms of abuse.

In addition to my comments on Lesson #7, we need to understand the best way to de-fuse public hostility in the face of US or allied fostered events such as the Koran burning. We should also recognize that each incident is likely to require a somewhat different approach.

Lesson #9: Better "planning" may not be the answer.

But better processing and cataloging of resources so that the community can get up to speed on the next AO quickly and efficiently.

Lesson #10: Rethink U.S. grand strategy, not just tactics or methods.

The US doesn’t have an information engagement strategy. This means that military action and the supporting MISO are doomed to be reactive.

Reader comments encouraged.


Anonymous said...

Operation Anaconda occurred in March of 2002 - when the United States and CENTCOM were still in the planning phase of the Iraq Campaign.

One could argue that with the shift on focus to Iraq in 2003 - CENTCOM lost the focus and missed the rise of the Haqqanni Network until 2006 - when it reached it's full effectiveness.

However - the key point of Operation Anaconda was that it was the first integration of Conventional and Special Operations into a battle plan in Operation Enduring Freedom.

That aspect should be analyzed in a "Tactical Intelligence" Class - and not the geopolitical shift of attention to Iraq - especially when your timeframe is premature.

Lawrence Dietz said...

@Anon - thanks for your comment, I will pass along to my class. BTW the point about emphasis is only one of many that enter the discussion.

Anonymous said...

It very well may be only one point that is discussed in your class - but it is the one you chose to highlight to strengthen your argument within your blog.

Operation Anaconda had many challenges - but distraction because of Iraq was not one of them.

Voodoo said...

The US hasn't had a grand strategy since the end of the Cold War. THAT is a major problem.