by SWJ Editors
Developing an IO Environmental Assessment in Khost Province
Information Operations at PRT Khost in 2008
by Ensign Robert J. Bebber, PhD, Small Wars Journal
The goal of Information Operations (or "IO") is to "influence, corrupt, disrupt or usurp adversarial human and automated decision making while protecting our own." But how does one know whether the decision process -- either human or automated -- has actually been influenced in some way? We can assume or surmise that, based on the actions of the target of the IO campaign, some desired effect was achieved or not achieved (but how much of that was based on our IO campaign and how much on other factors, perhaps unknown even to us?). We can also, if given the opportunity, ask the target after the fact whether campaign activities influenced their decision making.
Commanders conducting counterinsurgency operations should have two primary IO targets: the insurgents and the local population. John Nagl notes that "persuading the masses of people that the government is capable of providing essential services -- and defeating the insurgents -- is just as important" as enticing the insurgents to surrender and provide information on their comrades.
The Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) is not charged with directly targeting insurgents. Instead, its mission is to build the capacity of the host government to provide governance and development to the local population -- to show the people that the government can indeed provide "essential services" as Nagl notes.
Information Operations traditionally suffer from a lack of available metrics by which planners can assess their environment and measure the effectiveness of their programs. It may be impossible to show direct causation -- or even correlation -- between Information Operations and actual effects (i.e., did my PSYOP program actually have its desired effect?) in all cases. This often places IO practitioners at a distinct disadvantage when attempting to gain the confidence of unit commanders, who are tasked with allocating scarce battlefield resources and who are often skeptical of Information Operations as a whole.
This project developed an Information Operations Environmental Assessment tool that can be utilized and replicated at the unit level (battalion or less) for use by planners in order to establish an initial benchmark (where am I?) and measure progress toward achieving the IO program goals and objectives (where do I want to go?) The Provincial Reconstruction Team in Khost province, Afghanistan, needed a tool by which the leadership could benchmark current conditions and evaluate the information environment under which the population lived. It was hoped that such a tool could help provide clues whether our IO (and overall PRT) efforts were having the intended effect.