23 May 2009

Get inside the loop--information operations

Robert Haddick of Foreign Policy Online, in conjunction with Small Wars Journal, posted an interesting article regarding strategic communications in Afghanistan. I think most of us realize that the field of information operations is still evolving, and we've yet to fully explore the various ways we can exploit it. That being said, there's something inherently wrong when a band of men in caves are out-communicating the world's most interconnected superpower. We can do better than this.

A recent Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) report on strategic communications highlighted at Small Wars Journal showed how good the Taliban have become at propaganda and how far the United States must run to catch up. The Taliban doesn't need 16 days to get its message out:

[Michael] Doran [a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense] said that in Afghanistan, U.S. forces carry out an operation "and within 26 minutes -- we've timed it -- the Taliban comes out with its version of what took place in the operation, which immediately finds its way on the tickers in the BBC at the bottom of the screen."

Taliban information operations are not only speedy -- they also reach a range of media markets:

Taliban warlords renovated printing presses; launched new publications in Dari, Pashto, Arabic, and English; and maintained Voice of Sharia, a radio station, for dissemination of Taliban ideas and statements. ... By early 2009 Afghan and Pakistan Taliban factions were operating hundreds of radio programs, distributing audio cassettes, and delivering night letters to instill fear and obedience among their targeted populations.

Again, we can do better. Granted, we're at a disadvantage, simply because we're the outsiders, but that doesn't mean that it's impossible to wrangle control of the information landscape back from the Taliban.

The New Media might play a critical role in some areas--particularly global communication--but let's not be too enamored with it. Remember, many in Afghanistan are illiterate, and will not communicate in the same ways we do in the West, or even in Iraq. It is going to take some innovative thinking to get the anti-Taliban message out faster than our enemies are getting out the pro-Taliban message.

In sum, we need to get inside the Taliban's informational OODA Loop...

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