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Losing An Information War Against Muslim Jihadists

U.S. Losing Information War Against Muslim Jihadists


By Sherwood Ross

WASHINGTON, D.C. --- The Army and Marine Corps tomorrow (Dec. 15th) will release a new counterinsurgency field manual that notes how insurgents use the media “to magnify the effects of their actions” and which suggests ways to defeat those efforts.

The manual is already in use in Afghanistan where U.S. units are employing the new tactics against Taliban forces that have started to mount large operations in the Pashto-speaking south, according to a reliable article in an American magazine.

Australian-born Lt.-Col. David Kilcullen, currently working at a high-level counterterrorism post in the U.S. State Department, is quoted as describing the Taliban as essentially an “armed propaganda organization.”

“They switch between guerrilla activity and terrorist activity as they need to, in order to maintain the political momentum, and it’s all about an information operation that generates the perception of an unstoppable, growing insurgency,” Kilcullen told
reporter George Packer of “The New Yorker.”(December 18)

Kilkullen said when insurgents ambush a U.S. convoy in Iraq it’s because “they want spectacular media footage of a burning Humvee.” He adds, “It’s now fundamentally an information fight. The enemy gets that, and we don’t yet get that, and I think that’s why we’re losing.” He said, “If bin Laden didn’t have access to global media, satellite communications, and the Internet, he’d just be a cranky guy in a cave.”

One of the questions raised by Packer’s article, “Knowing The Enemy,” is whether the U.S. can shift its heavy reliance on military operations to community support efforts and inform civilian populations about them. That time may have already come and gone.

The new field manual asserts, “…by focusing on efforts to secure the safety and support of the local populace, and through a concerted effort to truly function as learning organizations, the Army and Marine Corps can defeat their insurgent enemies.”

The struggle in the Middle East increasingly appears to be an information battle to win public opinion. An Afghan villager, for example, has access to the Internet, e-mail, satellite phone, and text messaging and these tools are thought to be more easily exploited by insurgents than the Afghan government.

“In the information war, America and its allies are barely competing,” Packer writes, because they are not the primary strategy but used to publicize military victories and no one in the battlefield areas hears the message. At times, the U.S. has relied on radio to get across a message that would spread quicker by floating rumors in Iraqi coffee shops.

The emphasis on military response does little to win friends in Islam, Packer writes. He quotes Frederick Barton, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank: “Hard power is not the way we’re going to make an impression.”

In Pakistan, Barton says, the U.S. since 2002 has spent $6-billion shoring up the Pakistani military and billions more on intelligence-gathering yet it has spent less than a billion dollars on aid for education and economic development in a country where Islamist madrassas and joblessness contribute to the radicalization of young people.”

James Kuner, acting deputy of the U.S. Agency for International Development and a former Marine told The New Yorker that in Iraq and Afghanistan “the civilian agencies have received 1.4% of the total money,” whereas classical counterinsurgency doctrine says that 80% of the effort should be nonmilitary.”

Packer asserts, “There is little organized American effort to rebut the jihadist conspiracy theories that circulate daily among the Muslims living in populous countries such as Indonesia, Pakistan, and Nigeria.”

Bruce Hoffman, of Georgetown University, believes the U.S. must help foreign governments flood the Internet with persuasively youthful Web sites presenting anti-jihadist messages yet without leaving American fingerprints. He said jihadists have posted 5,000 Web sites that react swiftly and imaginatively to events. Adds Kilcullen, “We’ve got to co-opt or assist people who have a counter-message. And we might need to consider creating or supporting the creation of rival organizations.”

“You’ve got to be quiet about it,” Kilcullen said. “You don’t go in there like a missionary.” The idea is to offer an alternative to individuals to walk a road other than jihad.

The Pentagon currently is recruiting social scientists to serve in a new project called “Cultural Operations Research Human Terrain”. The plan calls for sending five-person “human terrain” teams into Iraq and Afghanistan with combat brigades to serve as cultural advisers. The first teams are planning to leave next spring.

Such teams might prevent repeat of U.S. strategic miscalculations made to date. One was described by Montgomery McFate writing in “Joint Force Quarterly”: “Once the Sunni Ba’thists lost their prestigious jobs, were humiliated in the conflict, and got frozen out through Ba’thification, the tribal network became the backbone of the insurgency. The tribal insurgency is a direct result of our misunderstanding the Iraqi culture.”

All of which makes you wonder, can the Bush White House get anything right? Anything?

*************

(Sherwood Ross is an American reporter who covers military and political affairs. Reach him at sherwoodr1 @ yahoo.com)

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