Skip to comments.DOD Officials Call Afghanistan 'Ideal' For Psychological Operations
Posted on 11/08/2001 5:22:11 AM PST by Stand Watch Listen
The isolation and poor infrastructure in Afghanistan that have complicated the ongoing war on terrorism also make the nation an "ideal" environment for psychological warfare operations, Defense Department officials say.
PSYOPS missions are an integral part of Operation Enduring Freedom, officials say. The missions, such as broadcasts to Afghan radios by EC-130 Commando Solo aircraft and leaflet drops over the country, are one of the few ways the United States can effectively communicate to the people of Afghanistan.
Most people in Afghanistan get their information by radio or word of mouth, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley told Inside the Pentagon this week. Therefore, the PSYOPS radio and leaflet missions have become "major, major vehicles" in DOD's effort to counter the information monopoly once held by the Afghanistan's ruling Taliban faction, Quigley said.
The absence of televisions or independent sources of information also make Afghanistan conducive to psychological operations, Quigley added.
An official with the unit that flies the Commando Solo said Nov. 7 that Afghanistan is "pretty much an ideal situation for what we do," and that all indications are that the message is getting through "loud and clear."
Although it is almost impossible to know how many people are actually tuning in to the broadcasts or reading U.S. leaflets, DOD does have anecdotal evidence that the U.S. message is being heard, the official added. The Pentagon has gotten feedback from the Northern Alliance, supporters and their families indicating the messages are getting through.
"Afghanistan is a good location" for PSYOPS efforts, according to Pentagon spokesman Air Force Maj. Michael Halbig. The leaflet drops are effective partly because the Afghan people are more literate than commonly portrayed, he said, and "a lot of people do have radios" to pick up Commando Solo broadcasts.
Messages include calls for Taliban defections; assurances that the U.S. is intervening in Afghanistan to help its people, not to attack them; and explanations of how the Taliban and Osama bin Laden are oppressing the country and forcing a corrupt form of Islam on the Afghan citizens.
"Commando Solo is deeply involved in all aspects of the operation over there," noted recently retired Air National Guard Commander Maj. Gen. Paul Weaver in a meeting with reporters Oct. 27. According to the transcripts of the broadcasts, one of the messages is that it is useless for Taliban supporters to resist the United States.
"You have only one choice -- surrender now and we will give you a second chance. We will let you live. If you surrender, no harm will come to you. When you decide to surrender, approach United States forces with your hands in the air. . . . Doing this is your only chance of survival," one Commando Solo message states.
This type of message was highly successful in the past, according to a fact sheet from the 193rd Special Operations Wing, Harrisburg, PA -- the only unit to fly the EC-130. "Programs intended to convince Iraqi soldiers to surrender" during the 1991 Persian Gulf War "helped to minimize both enemy and friendly casualties by contributing to the massive Iraqi defections and surrenders," the fact sheet states.
In a new report, the Defense Science Board states that broadcasts and leaflet drops are "effective in areas with limited access to outside media," though they may lack credibility among listeners.
"An established 'brand identity' must be solidly in place long before the need to project a critical message to a target foreign audience, the implication of which is that peacetime operation is a key to success," wrote former DOD acquisition chief Jacques Gansler in the January letter requesting the report, "Managed Information Dissemination."
The report finds psychological operations effective and necessary under the right circumstances. "Audiences for U.S. broadcasting spike in international crises and listening rates can be high where credible alternative news sources are limited," the DSB report notes. "Despite its successful use by the U.S. armed forces since the earliest days of the republic, PSYOPS is viewed by some as a black art that employs falsehoods, half-truths, and deception, In fact the opposite is true."
Although Commando Solo transmissions and leaflet messages do not "necessarily present balanced news or attempt to meet journalistic standards of impartiality [they] may present only selected information, albeit truthfully, to support a particular U.S. policy objective," according to the DSB task force. If the message is seen as a lie, it will be ignored.
Despite its success over Afghanistan, the PSYOPS mission is in transition. Even as "tactical" PSYOPS missions are succeeding, the overall mission attracts attention for shortcomings and past failings. For example, a previous DSB report was ordered "in response to Congressional concerns over limitations in military operations in the Balkans, where Commando Solo . . . aircraft were unable to adequately disseminate TV and radio broadcasts."
Consequently, the six legacy EC-130 aircraft flown now are scheduled to be replaced with new Lockheed Martin EC-130J models to improve reliability and overall mission effectiveness. Five EC-130Js have been budgeted so far.
"We are flying some very old C-130s" as Commando Solos, Weaver noted. "We are just about maxed out with all the equipment that we've got on board . . . with all that equipment, and the weight on it, we certainly do need a new aircraft," he said. "I don't care how much you put on the engines. I don't care how much corrosion control you do. They are still very old airplanes."
The new J-models will enable Commando Solos to fly at higher altitude, and for protection the aircraft always fly as high as possible, according to officials. Altitude limitations "haven't hindered us" in Afghanistan, one officer said, because the EC-130s are always flying with air support. "We're pretty well covered," he said.
The Air Force will turn to a common, wide-bodied aircraft such as the Boeing 767 to replace the Commando Solo, and "when we get the technology, [PSYOPS] could possibly be done by space," Weaver said.
The DSB suggested that DOD skip the EC-130J alternative and pursue the more advanced alternatives because "the estimated cost of $250 million to cross-deck . . . to an EC-130J platform is not justified by the marginal increase in performance" (ITP, Sept. 28, 2000, p1).
Weaver agrees the EC-130J is a temporary solution, but added, "we are a long way" from having a wide-body or space alternative. Including both the aircraft and specialized equipment, each new Commando Solo will cost about $80 million, according to the Air Force. Lockheed Martin spokesman Peter Simmons said the five aircraft currently under contract will be delivered to the service by the end of next year.
"We have got to look to a common widebody and I believe [Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John] Jumper and [Air Force Secretary James] Roche are on the mark" in advocating a common aircraft for several missions, he added
"I personally look at the J as the interim for that because I believe that the common, widebody capability would fulfill that requirement much better for all of those types of weapon systems," Weaver said last month.
-- Adam J. Hebert
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