Terrorism: October 8, 2001


Bombs, Bread and Information War- The other bomb finally dropped, with U.S. and British bomber and cruise missile attacks on Afghanistan on October 7th. There aren't many targets, and it doesn't take many to hit anything that counts. Communications, armor units, terrorist training camps and warplanes are about all the Afghans have. The current attacks were said be primarily at the air defense system (communications, radars ammunition dumps and the few dozen aircraft the Taliban have) as well as 23 terrorist camps and at least one Taliban combat unit. When president Bush announced the attacks he also mentioned air drops of relief supplies, and the efforts to avoid hitting civilians with any of the missiles. This reminds us that this war is about public opinion as much as it is about destroying military targets.

The war against Afghanistan is largely a propaganda war. Or, as it is called today, "Information War." This is a new kind of war, first discovered by the Pentagon in the 1980s when the US military realized that mass media had reached the point where it was a weapon of war. Previously, you demoralized the enemy population, making them willing to surrender, by defeating their armed forces. But nuclear weapons have made all out war rather more risky, and fighting to the finish on the battlefield in some minor war got more Americans killed than the US public would tolerate. Vietnam was an example of that, with the communists winning the media war by dragging the war out until the American people got tired of it and demanded withdrawal. That was the major lesson the American military got from Vietnam, and the development of information war doctrine was a result. Information war is keeping your eye on how your military actions play in the media, and how the vast numbers of people that watch the media react.

In Afghanistan, the use of bombs, and especially bread, is the preferred tactic. Bread (and other humanitarian aid) for the Afghan population can weaken support for the Taliban, and resistance to the American search for bin Laden and his fellow terrorists. While delivering some of this aid by parachute us very expensive, its an effort much appreciated by Pakistan and Iran, where nearly four million Afghan refugees already live in uneasy proximity with the locals. This will be the first war where civil affairs troops (the folks that deal with civilians in the combat zone) will sometimes go in first. While the Afghans have traditionally shot at armed invaders, they are likely to be far more welcoming towards soldiers bearing bread and medicine.

This tactic is not without risk. The Taliban still have supporters in Afghanistan, and these guys have guns they are willing to use against any Americans, no matter how much bread they are carrying. But images of American soldiers guarding food supplies from hostile Taliban troops would be an information war plus. The sight of American transports parachuting food to isolated Afghans is a dramatic image that counteracts the sight of exploding buildings.

The radicals in Islamic nations are a minority, but a dedicated minority determined to stop the future. The Taliban banned television and movies because it showed images of the modern world we take for granted. There is a religious war underway in Islamic nations, with the majority eager to embrace education, technology and mass media. While the radicals are not opposed to useful technology, they oppose any education that will have an impact on religious beliefs. But it is not just religious beliefs, but traditional customs as well. The restrictive treatment of women in Islamic nations is more a matter of custom than religion. But the defense of these customs has been merged with the defense of Islam. Its a losing battle, the Islamic fundamentalists know it, and they have been escalating their violence as their ultimate defeat becomes more obvious. 

One bit of technology Islamic fundamentalists have embraced is mass media. Even though they condemn it, they use it. The fundamentalists know that the right images and slogans can enrage fellow Moslems who may not agree with the entire fundamentalist program. While Bin Laden condemns television, he uses video cassettes for training and propaganda. The majority of Moslems are quite happy to make use of the entertainment and news mass media provide and note the inconsistent treatment of media by the radicals,

Moreover, Moslem men do feel very threatened by the freedoms Western women have. But this isnt about religion. Japanese men were resentful after World War II when Japanese women began to adopt American concepts of what a woman could do and be. The same drama is still played out in America as immigrants from nations with different cultures find that their children, especially their daughters (and sometimes their wives) demand new freedoms that are considered normal in the United States. As a result, Moslem men are particularly eager to hit the streets and protest these new Western ideas. The Moslem radicals are preying on fear of change as well as an unfounded defense of religious beliefs.

The current information war aims to remove fear of Americans in Afghanistan, not fear of change in the Islamic world. Keeping score in this kind of war requires looking at the degree of civil unrest in Moslem nations, especially Pakistan. If the radicals have no media images to inflame public anger, the crowds will not come and violently protest. If that happens, America is winning the information war.


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