Belmont Club has a must-read article up about the Blogosphere at War, including a scheme for how logically rigorous Counterinsurgency and Counter-Jihad materials can be flowed up from the Blogs into the old Media: newspapers; television; and such. Read it all!
Wretchard’s key insight, one left unstated, is that the center of gravity for the world-wide Counterjihad is within the minds of Americans. It is not in the minds of Europe, or Iraq, or the middle east. America is the world’s sole Superpower, and if America decides to do something then nothing can or will stop it. The necessary and sufficient requirement for the Global Counterjihad to happen and to win is for Americans to decide it will happen. As the center of gravity is within the minds of Americans, the American media has a crucial role to play. So far, the American media’s role has been to trivialize and vacillate at best, and to betray operational secrets and provide aid and comfort to the enemy at worst.
December must have been the month of counterinsurgency, or perhaps the new seriousness about Iraq and Afghanistan prompted by the 2006 elections has brought counterinsurgency to the fore and 2007 will be the year that Counterinsurgency becomes the organizing theme. In any case, there is a lot of information about counterinsurgency now available, and Wretchard’s contribution is only the most recent.
The US Military recently released two book-length PDF files about Counterinsurgency.
- The first one is US Army manual FM 3-24 “Counterinsurgency” released in December 2006. It covers the kinetic, political, and information warfare components of Counterinsurgency without going into the fight in the media.
- The second one is the Military Review’s October 2006 Special Edition: Counterinsurgency Reader, which covers some of the material that was too politically hot to cover in an official manual.
The article in the Counterinsurgency Reader that is the most fascinating begins on page 118. The Decisive Weapon: A Brigade Combat Team Commander’s Perspective on Information Operations, by Colonel Ralph O. Baker, U.S. Army, is a hard-nosed confessional of a sort that describes how a brigade commander came to an understanding of how to effectively manage the public face of military operations in Iraq.
A guiding imperative was to produce and distribute IO products with focused messages and themes more quickly than our adversaries. Only then could we stay ahead of the extremely adroit and effective information operations the enemy waged at neighborhood and district levels. We were also initially challenged in working through the bureaucratic IO/PSYoP culture. We often faced situations where we needed handbills specifically tailored to the unique circumstances and demographics of the neighborhoods we were attempting to influence. However, the PSYoP community routinely insisted that handbills had to be approved through PSYoP channels at the highest command levels before they could be cleared for distribution. This procedure proved to be much too slow and cumbersome to support our IO needs at the tactical level.
Good reasons exist for some central control over IO themes and products under some circumstances, but information operations are operations, and in my opinion that means commander’s business. IO is critical to successfully combating an insurgency. It fights with words, symbols, and ideas, and it operates under the same dynamics as all combat operations. An old army saw says that the person who gets to the battle the “firstest” with the “mostest” usually wins, and this applies indisputably to information operations. In contrast, a consistent shortcoming I experienced was that the enemy, at least initially, consistently dominated the io environment faster and more thoroughly than we did. our adversary therefore had considerable success in shaping and influencing the perceptions of the iraqi public in his favor. The ponderous way in which centrally managed PSYoP products were developed, vetted, and approved through bureaucratic channels meant they were simply not being produced quickly enough to do any good.
A few pages later he describes how this worked in the field.
As an illustration, on 18 January 2004 a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBieD) during morning rush hour at a well-known Baghdad checkpoint called Assassin’s Gate, a main entrance into the Green Zone. This attack killed about 50 Iraqis waiting at the checkpoint. While we were managing the consequences of the incident, which included dealing with a considerable number of international and Arab media, i was instructed not to release a statement to the press—higher headquarters would collect the facts and release them at a Coalition-sponsored press conference to be held at 1600 Baghdad time.
Unfortunately, the terrorists responsible for this bombing were not constrained from engaging the press. While precious time was being spent “gathering facts,” the enemy was busily exploiting to their advantage the ensuing chaos. The message they passed to the press was that Coalition Soldiers were responsible for the casualties at the checkpoint because of an overreaction to somebody shooting at them from the intersection; that is, the terrorists were spreading a rumor that the carnage on the street was not the result of a VBieD but, rather, the result of an undisciplined and excessive use of force by my Soldiers.
As precious time slipped by and with accusations multiplying in the Arab media and tempers heating up, we made a conscious decision that our field grade officers would talk to the press at the site and give them the known facts; in effect, we would hold a stand-up, impromptu press conference. We also decided that in all future terrorist attacks, the field grade officers’ principle job would be to engage the press—especially the Arab press—as quickly as possible while company grade officers managed the tactical situation at the incident site.
Subsequently, when such incidents occurred, we took the information fight to the enemy by giving the free press the facts as we understood them as quickly as we could in order to stay ahead of the disinformation and rumor campaign the enemy was sure to wage. We aggressively followed up our actions by updating the reporters as soon as more information became available. as a result, the principal role of field grade officers at incident sites was to engage the press, give them releasable facts, answer questions as quickly and honestly as possible with accurate information, and keep them updated as more information became known.
Our proactive and transparent approach proved to be an essential tool for informing and influencing the key Iraqi audiences in our AO; it mitigated adverse domestic reaction. our quick response helped dispel the harmful rumors that nearly always flowed in the wake of major incidents.
I’ll stop excerpting from this eye-opening article after this final excerpt (emphasis mine). In this excerpt, the Colonel describes the observations that shaped his brigade’s IO operation.
Our approach to conducting IO evolved over time, out of the operational necessity to accomplish our mission. We were probably a good 3 to 4 months into our tour before we gained the requisite experience and understanding of key IO factors. We then began to deliberately develop a structure and mechanism to systematically synchronize our information operations throughout the brigade. The following observations ultimately helped shape our operational construct:
- It is imperative to earn the trust and confidence of the indigenous population in your AO. They might never “like” you, but I am convinced you can earn their respect.
- To defeat the insurgency, you must convince the (silent) majority of the population that it is in their best personal and national interest to support Coalition efforts and, conversely, convince them not to support the insurgents.
- For information operations to be effective, you must have focused themes that you disseminate repetitively to your target audience.
- Target audiences are key. You should assume that the silent majority will discount most of the information Coalition forces disseminate simply because they are suspicious of us culturally. Therefore, you must identify and target respected community members with IO themes. if you can create conditions where Arabs are communicating your themes to Arabs, you can be quite effective.
- Being honest in the execution highly important. This goes back to developing trust and confidence, especially with target audiences. If you lose your credibility, you cannot conduct effective IO. Therefore, you should never try to implement any sort of IO “deception” operations.
In a later post, I hope to merge the insights in Wretchard’s and Col. Baker’s articles into a more complete, focused plan of action that can be used by those in the Counterjihad movement to get the hostile media (other than Fox News Channel and talk radio) to publish our message.
UPDATE 5 Jan 2007: See Part II here.