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Thread: IO: Marines Battle Rumor Mill in Iraq

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    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    Default IO: Marines Battle Rumor Mill in Iraq

    4 October Associated Press - Marines Battle Rumor Mill in Iraq by Anthony Castaneda.

    Word spread quickly: A Marine search dog had escaped and was roaming the streets attacking children. But the Marines didn't have any dogs in Haditha at the time.

    Nevertheless, Marines found themselves having to quash yet another of the baseless rumors that often sweep this city of about 50,000 people, most of them Sunni Arabs wary of U.S. intentions in Iraq.

    Rumors _ most of them maligning U.S. troops _ are a staple of life in the embattled, isolated cities of Anbar province, a region that is a center of the Sunni Arab-led insurgency and where telephones don't work and newspapers rarely appear.

    Many residents are afraid to visit other parts of the country such as Baghdad, 140 miles to the southeast, for fear they'll run afoul of Shiite death squads. In their isolation, most people rely on Arab television networks such as Al-Jazeera for news of the outside world. For local news, the main medium is word of mouth.

    No one is sure how the dog rumor started but soon terrified people were complaining to tribal leaders about a violent animal on the loose. The director of the city hospital even told reporters that seven children had been bitten.

    The Americans must be to blame, many people concluded...
    Also check out Rumors in Iraq: A Guide to Winning Hearts and Minds by Captain Stephanie Kelley, USAF, in the SWJ Library.

    This thesis proposes the study of rumor as a guide to the battle for hearts and minds in Iraq. It reviews existing rumor theory to identify how rumors function and what we can learn from them. Rumors often serve as a window into a community, and can provide valuable information for developing a campaign to assess, monitor, and gain the support necessary to defeat insurgents. This thesis employs two distinct typologies to analyze over ten months of rumors in Baghdad, Iraq. The motivation typology provides indications of Iraqi sentiment, and suggests unrelieved anxiety and fear is likely contributing to widespread hostility towards the US-led Coalition. Indications of unrealistic expectations are also evident, potentially contributing to hostility levels as they go unrealized. The subject typology identifies overarching concerns of the Iraqi people, and suggests there are specific fears inhibiting cooperation with US counterinsurgency efforts. This thesis then examines rumor remedies. Because they rely on effective communication skills, American and Arab cultural communication styles are contrasted and integrated into tailored remedies for Iraq. The findings in this thesis could assist Coalition information campaigns by alerting them to existing Iraqi perceptions so they can tailor messages to address significant concerns and fears...

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    Council Member 979797's Avatar
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    As a PSYOP soldier, this infuriates and frustrates me. I would hope the Marine Corps would be able to effectively utilize its PSYOP teams to combat this exact thing, but apparently they do not.

    The Army unit I supported understood very little about Information Operations and Psychological Operations. They cared even less to learn.

    PSYOP teams are trained and equipped to deal with EXACTLY this problem but can only do so if they become a key part of operational planning and receive the support they need from the units they are assigned to.

    So often, I found myself asking for patrol support (give me some guntrucks, sir) from the S-3 only to be told, "hey, go out with this patrol and maybe they'll let you do your thing for a little bit." PSYOP is NOT a shake-and-bake operation and the Army's nonchalant attitude towards it is one of the reasons why we are losing the IO fight (and the fight in general) in Iraq.

    And then the BC and his staff would pat eachother on the back when they found a weapons cache or caught an HVT... as if we were somehow making progress.

    It's the people, stupid. That's what counterinsurgency is. And I don't care how many weapons caches you've found or HVT's you've caught... at the end of the day, it doesn't matter a bit if you don't have the people on your side.

    When they write the book, "Why We Lost in Iraq" twenty years down the road, I guarantee you'll find in the index "PSYOP units, lack of and improper use" referenced with about thirty page numbers following it.

    I'd be willing to bet half my pay that the insurgents in Iraq have specially-tasked people who do this exact thing... start rumors and plant misinformation.

    I gotta stop here or my head will explode.

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    Council Member Mondor's Avatar
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    Default Rumor Mill is King

    We found in Afghanistan that after an operation in a city or village that the Tactical Psyop Team (TPT) had to be talking to people that night or first thing the next day explaining what had happened. Generally telling folks why we were there for that particular action, and what they could expect to happen, nipped the negative rumors in the bud. If we waited until the afternoon or the next day then the locals would just make up a story, usually hostile to our interest.

    For example: US and Afghan forces raided a house in the middle of the night in a high-density urban area. As soon as the forces started moving the TPT would broadcast via loudspeaker informing the neighborhood that coalition forces were conducting an operation and that everyone should stay inside and off the roofs for their own safety.

    The next morning the same TPT would talk to people in the neighborhood telling them about the raid. The locals would be told that the coalition had information that bad people lived in the house and that they were being taken in for questioning. All of the bad people would be kept in custody and that everyone else would be returned home in a few days.

    The key was to get in quick, tell the truth, and be consistent. When all of the local news is word of mouth you need to communicate face to face or you will lose the information/credibility battle. Grab the initiative because if you lose it then you will never get it back.

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    3 in a row - PSYOP rant time?
    Quote Originally Posted by 979797 View Post
    I gotta stop here or my head will explode.
    Populations ARE key terrain in COIN and UW. Until the war for influence, information, and ideology is given a footing more equal to the "shooting" war, we will not be successful in the GWOT.

    Regarding Rumors - If you don't take the time to create and foster a credible reputation among key communicators, how can you combat rumors after the fact? The hardest aspect of PSYOP is to build credibility and persuade a Target Audience to trust you although you may be an enemy. It takes effort and time - and must be proactive not reactive - as our 345th'er posted.

    The Army unit I supported understood very little about Information Operations and Psychological Operations.
    The other half of this challenge is making people understand that PSYOP is OBJECTIVE driven and focused on changing behaviors; whether that behavior supports a campaign to alter the battlespace prior to the battle, to create actions which support intelligence activities, or to simply foster positive support for allied efforts. It is not some "willy-nilly" pile of "good ideas" that we throw out there to make people like us; it must be part of a unified, phased-timeline, objective-driven campaign w/defined MOE's.

    I have long found it interesting that the average non-SME officer would not attempt to tell an ODA HOW to conduct FID, a SEAL team HOW to board/seize a vessel, Rangers HOW to take an airfield, HUMINT teams HOW to collect, CAV units HOW to conduct maneuver warfare - but for some reason, many are very apt to tell PSYOP HOW to create behavioral changes.

    bet that the insurgents in Iraq have specially-tasked people who do this exact thing..
    - You'd win! Iraqi insurgents, as well as terorrists, strongly understand the importance of the "idea war" and dedicate assets to support it. The internet further fueled this phenomenon, which really took off when the Makhtab al Khadimat used tapes to generate Arab support in the Soviet-Astan war. Besides conducting such operations on the ground, AQ took this a step further with a dedicated media support, like "as Sahab." Other more independent brokers also stepped in, Babar Ahmed & Younis Tsouli (Irhabi007.) Tsouli, in particular, played a role in Iraq; as he was sent videos from Zarqawi (among others) and reproduced and spread them via the internet -other regionally based organizations such as "the Global Islamic Media Front" & "the Information Commission for the Help of the Iraqi People," have done similiar. Not to be grim, but small insurgent or terror groups recognize that funding goes to those "organizations" who show their prowess via videos of attacks, beheadings, etc.
    - Likewise DOCEX, public statements, and interviews have shown that terrorists and insurgents recognize the importance of this aspect of the war - even offering explicit details.

    I fear what happens when/if outside fighters and terrorists do more to entrench themselves with the Iraqi populations and insurgents - more akin to the humanitarian efforts of Hezbollah.

    PSYOP - If you wear the Palm Tree & Wings, then we likely each other! I'll shoot you a PM.
    Last edited by ilots; 10-07-2006 at 09:15 PM.

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    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    Default It's all so easy, but resources remain the issue

    When I last served in Iraq in '04-'05, my TF did not have attached PSYOP assets, and we had a large swath of Western Al Anbar to deal with. The only time we received a TPT to employ was during Fallujah 2.0.

    This problem was compounded by the fact that our entire IO plan was driven by the Fire Support Coordinator (and he did a fine job with what he had), who's background in IO consisted of several seminars held at Camp Pendleton.

    I hear you guys, but for whatever reason, TPTs are limited in quantity like CAG, HETs, mineclearing teams, and linguists/translators. We were fortunate to get the TPT for a named operation, although we clearly knew we had a need for it.

    Truth be told though, there were inconsistencies between the PSYOP elements of our IO campaign plan (which we felt was in psynch with HHQ), and advise given by the TPT lead. When you're prosecuting kinetic and non-kinetic operations on 2-3 hours of sleep a day, and your TPT lead is advising you (as the IO officer) to try a particular approach, it's tough to see the forest. I chalk that up to the simple dynamic that fatigue drives well-intentioned people to minimize the number of decision points they have to face. The result is that we sometimes defaulted to a certain approach simply because it was familiar and worked before. In truth, we realized during AARs that had the TPT been integrated sooner, the lead Soldier wouldn't have been required to propose approaches that seemed "pretty far out there". He would have had more time to change our behaviors during planning and work from a number of COAs that had already been kicked around.

    This is a long reply, but I just wanted to throw out some of the things that I saw cause friction.

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    Council Member Mondor's Avatar
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    Default Friction and Resources

    I certainly understand those friction points. Fortunately those issues have been identified; unfortunately they were identified as early as 1990 and have not been addressed.

    Tactical Psyop Detachments (TPDs) and TPTs work best when they live with the supported unit, so that they understand all of the mission and personnel dynamics, and can become deeply involved in the planning process.

    As far as IO coordination goes, what can I say? Until there is a uniform policy that is enforced and funded, coordination will be haphazard. I feel sorry for both the TPT and the IO coordinator that may not even have had a chance to brief each other. In that situation the TPT will just roll out and try and think outside the box to assist the supported unit. Not the best situation, but proper training and a uniform IO policy would reduce the chance of making mistakes that can get people killed.

    Of course all of this begs the question; Why isnít there a Marine Psyop unit out there? If the Corps had its own Psyop unit(s) then they would be able to resource as needed. That would also cut down on the integration time that your average TPT needs to understand the Marine way of doing things. I speak both Jarhead and Doggy, but not everyone has that linguistic talent.

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    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    Default Interesting question

    Of course all of this begs the question; Why isnít there a Marine Psyop unit out there?
    I don't have the slightest idea why the Corps is lacking in that regard. Maybe it falls along the same lines of why we don't maintain Patriot batteries, or don't have stocks of hovercraft like the ones I saw once at Ft. Story.

    Somewhere a staff guy is wrestling with this very subject though, and probably with limited success.

    I think what you propose may be the impetus for a joint IO publication, with the USA as the lead agent, much in the same way that the joint CAS pub was developed.

    Perhaps a simpler answer is that IO, like so many other supporting fires in the non-kinetic COIN fight, isn't sexy enough, or doesn't have concrete training standards that can form the basis of standardized training.

    You are certainly on to something Psyop, and maybe it's time for a broader discussion on the matter with a thread in the Equipment and Capabilities section.

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    Council Member 979797's Avatar
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    I was under the impression that the Marine Corps was fielding PSYOP units now or that the Civil Affairs Groups were handling that end of things.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jcustis View Post
    This is a long reply, but I just wanted to throw out some of the things that I saw cause friction.
    No worries, I think it is a great (and honest) reply that addresses very valid concerns. Unfortunately, there remains a great range of ability between PSYOP Bn's and units - often depending on their METL & traditional lines of support (wartrace.)

    979797 - I am NOT a SME on the USMC (by any stretch.) I do know that several years ago the USMC sent a VERY small amount of their CA Group through the PSYOP reclass courses.
    Last edited by ilots; 10-13-2006 at 04:17 PM.

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    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Default Civilians in COIN

    Populations ARE key terrain in COIN and UW. Until the war for influence, information, and ideology is given a footing more equal to the "shooting" war, we will not be successful in the GWOT.
    HOOAH!

    From my essay in SWJ Magazine Vol 5:
    5. Civilians on the battlefield in counter insurgency are not only part of the battlefield; they are the objective. There are no collateral casualties. All non-insurgent casualties are friendly.
    I gave a couple of lectures on COIN in Rwanda over the past couple of months, and lesson #5 as stated above, typically generated much discussion. Collateral casualties as a term is very much a conventional warfare metric to my mind. As long as we separate out casulties in the population as a 3rd category, it makes it nearly impossible to understand the secondary and tertiary effects such casualties generate. As a non-law enforcement type, it seems to me that in applying lethal we have to begin to look at it more as a police scenario.

    Best

    Tom

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    Council Member Mondor's Avatar
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    Default Psyop Thread

    I am going to take JCUSTIS's advice and start a thread on Marine/Naval Psyop in the Equipment and Capabilities section.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Odom View Post
    Collateral casualties as a term is very much a conventional warfare metric to my mind. As long as we separate out casulties in the population as a 3rd category, it makes it nearly impossible to understand the secondary and tertiary effects such casualties generate.
    Though very difficult to address, I would certainly agree that there are few greater "force multipliers" for an actual insurgency than collateral damage of non-combatants &/or tactics which are perceived as disproportionately employed against a civilian population.

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    Council Member 979797's Avatar
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    ilots, the events themselves are not force multipliers in and of themselves... it is the way in which the insurgent exploits it... and this takes a savvy approach and understanding of IO and PSYOP. Same goes for countering/spinning it. Not all events over there are being exploited by the insurgents. We also are doing a mediocre job (at best) at countering enemy IO.

    Someone brought up a point earlier about "police operations" and lethal effects. I believe (and have touted it in another board) that our LACK OF non-lethal options compounds our problems in COIN and IO.
    Last edited by Jedburgh; 10-15-2006 at 12:55 PM. Reason: Edit: Inserted link to referenced thread.

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    Quote Originally Posted by 979797 View Post
    ilots, the events themselves are not force multipliers in and of themselves....
    As I stated, difficult to address (given the nature of short forum posts) and you should also note my use of quotations. BUT for the sake of argument, while not planned PSYACTS by the enemy, such actions do affect the behavior of a specific audience w/out exploitation by the enemy (although they are very well versed enhancing and creating such effects.) With out ANY action taken by the enemy, the use of what is perceived as disproportionate response against the civilian population will de-legitimize our actions and "enhance" our enemies capability to conduct an insurgency; hence my use of "force multiplier." This is especially true given the role of "legitimacy" in COIN (and CT/AT.)
    Last edited by ilots; 10-17-2006 at 11:54 PM.

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