Rediscovering the Art of Psychological Operations

Rediscovering the Art of Psychological Operations in the Afghan Counterinsurgency

by Russell Hampsey

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Psychological Operations (PSYOP) professionals have too long taken a cautionary approach to the counterinsurgency (COIN) operations in Afghanistan. The forces waging COIN on a daily basis; Brigade, Battalion and Company sized units deride PSYOP as the "no" man. While the rest of the military has become learning organizations it seems PSYOP units are stuck trying to execute major combat operational war campaigns that are better suited for an enemy that is national and enjoys first or top tier second-world infrastructure. Commanders on the ground strive for responsive, timely, and relevant programs designed to influence the insurgent and selected Afghan target audiences that support or are ambivalent to the insurgents. PSYOP limitations in executing these tasks have relegated the branch to the second string. The PSYOP community must reinvigorate its agility and come prepared to fight the COIN strategy in Afghanistan.

There are underlying issues that have led the community to this undesirable point. PSYOP professionals have been in a 9 year struggle with the Information Operations (IO) field for primacy in addressing foreign target audiences. Field manuals and regulations tell you that PSYOP communicates with foreign audiences when influence is desired and Public Affairs communicate with foreign press and leaders when presenting informational releases. The PSYOP problem lies in the responsiveness in the field. In Afghanistan innovative PSYOP products that are not preapproved are scrutinized and boarded until their usefulness is irrelevant. In the meantime commanders look to the IO team to get message out, even if the risk is a less than optimal product. Preapproved product is great for standing messages such as tips lines, rewards programs and informational data e.g. tune in to x radio station; it is useless against a enemy that bases it entire campaign on influence and intimidation. It is time to get PSYOP back in the fight.

Download the full article: Rediscovering the Art of Psychological Operations

Russell Hampsey is a retired Psychological Operations Officer and is currently working for the ISAF Counterinsurgency Advisory and Assistance Team in Regional Command East.

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Comments

I will disagree, with the generalization in this article and agree we had problems especially a lack of branch for PYSOP specifically for Officers. It hurts the Regiment (whats left) even to today.

I understand some PSYOP units are/were not up to speed, several in fact. I left theater in 2004. I am sorry to say many PSYOP units that stood up were in fact EPW units with very little tactical doctrine training or the benefit of professional (albeit) part time soldiers. They also lacked flexibility and "out of box thinking" which is a primary tool for a FOX solider. I found them led mostly by CA officers.

Further several PSYOP units were led by CA Officers with little care or understanding of PSYOP and quite frankly failed, and failed to listen to their more experienced, trained and dedicated NCO's.

Lastly, we (PSYOP) were attempting to implement many of the issue discussed in the full article, however were thwarted by IO. Yet still having a PDD for each BN would be over kill. A company plus with PDD plus could run a 24/7 operation for all. It would require better training for all PSYOP to understand the populace. Which takes getting out of the truck first.

Regards

Improving military effectiveness and executing effective strategies to win the global war on terrorism. Soldiers should be able to converse and persuade local on the street by bridging the cultural divide with pragmatic skills. They should learn not just foreign language, but negotiating skills, collaborative gestures, and speech acts; by increasing their behavioral repertoire we could enable them to engage natives and to wage a successful COIN.