From Wired Magazaine:
By Spencer Ackerman Email Author September 13, 2011 |
2:14 pm |
Categories: Af/Pak As a complex, coordinated Taliban attack unleashed gunfire, mortars and suicide bombers onto the U.S. Embassy in Kabul on Tuesday morning, NATO’s military command didn’t just respond to the threat militarily. It got its videocameras rolling in an attempt to deny the Taliban a propaganda victory. In this just-released, four-minute video, American, Afghan and allied troops jump from stacked metal connexes to defensible positions and direct fire at Taliban insurgents below the walls of the giant compound. Sirens from ambulances are audible, as are the pops of rifle rounds. Black smoke billows from an area of the compound hit by the Taliban. The Taliban clearly want a propaganda boost from the five-hour attack. They started calling reporters to take credit for it even as their offensive was underway. The assault came days U.S. Amb. Ryan Crocker boasted to a Washington Post columnist that Kabul’s biggest problem was “traffic.” The security-analysis group Stratfor assesses that since the Taliban’s use of small arms can’t damage the embassy, “this attack was intended really to send a message, to be more symbolic in nature.” The video appears designed to undermine that propaganda effort. Soldiers, Marines and their Afghan and foreign counterparts work calmly — but fiercely in tandem to direct rifle fire against the insurgents. Message: We got this — even if the Taliban just shattered the sense that NATO and the Afghan government at least had the capitol locked down. At least six people are dead and 19 wounded, mostly Afghans, in a fight that subsided mere hours ago. We’re unaware of any previous effort from the U.S. military that got video out to social media nearly as quickly. H/T: Jeff Schogol of Stars & Stripes
A Hasty Response
The online counterpropaganda campaign against terrorists (See chapter 7 of Strategic Influence.) is off to a start. NATO forces quickly understood the opportunity at hand and reacted appropriately. This act shows great progress in the military’s learning to conform to the Information Age (See Chapter 1 on Revolution in Military Affairs from In Athena’s Camp.) However, there are some major problems. Those problems are the message, messenger, doctrine, strategy, and the current internet infrastructure of Afghanistan.
On the Message
NATO’s timing was great and the idea was on the right path. However, the message is pretty bland for the English speaking audience. This raises some questions. Is it just as bad for the Dari and Pashto audiences? Are all the audiences reading the same message? How does this video want to make local Afghans turn on the Taliban and aid Western Forces? How does posting a video of what happened make insurgents want to lay down their arms if there is no message attached to it that attempts to convince them to lay down their arms and turn away from the insurgent lifestyle? The Taliban will use this attack to strengthen their narrative and add the names of the suicide bombers to the list of heroic martyrs for Islam (lets not forget the significance of martyrdom in Islamic culture), while NATO makes status updates on Youtube.
The message attached to the video on NATO’s page for the video reads:
Video of ISAF soldiers inside ISAF Headquarters – Kabul, Afghanistan fighting back against an attack on the US Embassy compound and ISAF HQ – 13th September 2011
On The Messenger
Does NATO have the capacity to carry out counter-propaganda on the internet? Maybe, but most likely no. Should they be the ones to Spearhead such operations? No, stability in Afghanistan reaches beyond NATO security forces and their public relations office. If the end of stability operations in a country are to be found in the harmonization of its political institutions then the message should come from a focal point that takes in all the non-governmental organizations’, governments’, and militaries’ operations in that country to produce a message that is consistent with all of them and our national strategies. Currently, this task is delegated to the United States State Department’s office for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy. However, this office of the State Department and its operations are severely under budgeted. This is a cause for great concern in the War of Ideas. If the United States can not effectively tell its story than it fights only to fight with no end it sight. The question has also been raised if this responsibility should be that of the State Department. Before State took over these tasks belonged to the United States Information Agency (USIA). Maybe we should look into getting it back up and running?
Doctrine and Strategy
DT has yet to come across a clear doctrine or strategy for such operations. Problem? Very much so! Just because a doctrine or a strategy has yet to be produced, it does not mean that effective methods have not already been made. Many of these methods are outlined in Strategic Influence.
Afghanistan’s Internet Connectivity
Members of the Taliban and the people of Afghanistan for the most part do not have much internet connectivity. In 2009 of the 29.272 million people (Mundi index) only one million were estimated to be connected to the internet (CIA). This needs to change for internet influence activities to be more fully effective. Expanding the internet infrastructure would most likely help Afghans reconstruct their country faster too.
Western forces are on the right track so far. Developing a clear doctrine and strategy would help provide guidelines for the message makers. Delegation and responsibility of power really must be clearly understood for efficient functioning. DT will post more on developing strategies and mechanisms that will make these operations more effective at a later date.