Information Warfare: Mind Games In Afghanistan


November 28, 2009: American troops arriving in Afghanistan have been supplied with a very thick and complex playbook of Information War moves they can make against the Taliban. It's a different war in Afghanistan. Most of the fighting in Iraq took place in urban areas, where Islamic terrorists had an easier time moving about and finding hiding places. In Afghanistan, most of the action is out in the countryside, with U.S. troops operating in and around isolated villages. Except in areas (mostly Helmand province) where opium and heroin production (which the Taliban are paid to protect) is a big business, the Taliban have very few supporters. Even in Helmand, the Taliban are not exactly rock stars, because these Islamic radicals torment the people with demands that they change their lifestyle (more prayer and no music or videos, or schools for girls.) In most of southern Afghanistan, only about 20 percent of the population (the hard core religious conservatives who are willing to overlook terrorism) back the Taliban. With that kind of support, the Taliban often control villages and towns without ever showing their faces. The Taliban communicate via "night letters" (hand written notes left at the doors of local leaders, or nailed to a prominent wall). The Taliban back up their demands with murder and kidnapping (sometimes for ransom, not just compliance.)

This kind of terror is hard to deal with, but the army Special Forces and eight years of everyone's experience in Afghanistan has been captured and turned into documents that provide a wide variety of things you can do to counter Taliban operating methods. A lot of this collecting (bits that work) and disseminating (to all the other troops) began informally on the Internet. That's where the army got the idea, from troops that were already doing these things out of self-interest (in not getting killed.)

This information rarely makes it into public view. The troops like to keep their tactics away from the enemy, who can come up with counter-measures if they know what they will be up against. The official army versions of this stuff is classified, and available only to troops.

A lot of the suggestions are basically common sense. Things like finding out who really has the power in the area, and then asking for an audience, paying respect, and bringing gifts. It's all about making friends, and playing the game the macho Afghan way. This is a warrior culture, and only the really badass people get the kind of respect that can mobilize armed resistance to the Taliban (who are often a bunch of armed guys living rough in the hills, who often head to distant homes, or even Pakistani sanctuaries, for the Winter.)

It's all about mind games, overlaid with some combat and efforts to improve the lives of the civilians in your area of operations.



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