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Dueling Information Operations

SVBIED detonating in Mandozayi District, Khowst Province Afghanistan, 28 December 2008, killing 16, 14 of them children.

Yesterday, in the "Flies in Amber"  post, I put up the story about the suicide bombing in Khowst, and chose to make it a discussion of viewpoint, outlook, and will.  The fact that CJTF-101 PAO put the story out so quickly was clearly intended to get out in front of the story, and to try to shape the story before the bad guys did, because of the murder of the children that was involved. 

I got the video in the initial distribution that went out to news agencies.  I chose not to link or show it, among other reasons, because it is obvious in the video that they are children, it is not so obvious in the photo, and the photo is bad enough. 

You can see in the release below that CJTF -101 [Update - HQ ISAF made the call to release, CJTF-101 was the packager and distributor] made a good call in getting the story out quickly.

The bad guys are trying (and will succeed in many arenas) to spin the story their way, trying to avoid the torn and shattered children.  It was crucial for CJTF-101 to get the video out, because in the video, it's clear they're children, stuck there like flies in amber.  The video puts the lie to the spin.

16 Afghans dead, 58 Afghans wounded in Khowst province suicide attack Sunday

KABUL, Afghanistan - One of Public Affairs' primary responsibilities is to ensure factual reporting of events to the public and to counter enemy propaganda.

Sunday, Zabihollah Mojahed, a Taliban spokesperson, reported a martyrdom attack carried out in Khowst province. Mojahed claimed the attack killed 20 foreign soldiers, wounded dozens and destroyed an unknown number of tanks.

The true result of this indiscriminate act of murder was 16 Afghans killed, including 14 children and one Afghan National Army soldier, and 58 Afghans wounded.

The surveillance video, released to the media Sunday by ISAF Public Affairs, clearly shows the children in full view of the suicide bomber. The bomber could have waited for the children to leave the area, but he decided to detonate his bombs and kill the children. The video is available upon request. [You can get it by clicking here. -the Armorer]

"The bombing in Khowst demonstrates, once again, that the insurgents are a cancer to the Afghan people," said Col. Jerry O'Hara, U.S. Forces Afghanistan spokesperson. "It is tragic for enemies to declare themselves martyrs after killing innocent children. There was no martyr here. A real martyr would have taken a bullet to save those children."
Colonel O'Hara hits the nail on the head for us in the West.  Our soldiers, far more often than not, embrace this ethos: "A real martyr would have taken a bullet to save those children."

While there are always exceptions, especially in bitter, existential wars like that fought between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, western soldiers will take extra risks to protect the children - even children of a hostile power - especially in close combat.    We can talk about strategic bombing and artillery later, those are cases that don't apply in this specific type of event.  It's been a long time since you've seen western soldiers deliberately target their *own* children - and that is usually in the context of loss and despair, when death seems preferable to allowing your children to fall into the enemy's hands, such as those sporadic cases of murder-suicide that followed the fall of Nazi Germany.

And lest I commit a calumny-by-omission, most middle eastern soldiers I served with or helped train also value their children in the same way, though some have been a little more cavalier about the children of their enemies at times. 

It's another aspect of this war that makes it tougher on our own troops, especially when their professional prowess and skill cause the enemy to deflect to softer, easier targets - those targets are precisely the people they are trying to protect.

And we're struggling to find ways to neutralize a bad guy who's just far more ruthless than we are.

Which is precisely why they must be defeated, in one way or another.  But, it's going to take an "Awakening" in the populations that support this enemy to make it stick.

Which makes for a long war.

Which democracies have little stomach for, absent the obvious and compelling existential threat, like WWII. 

Even in those circumstances, there was a great war weariness in the United States as the war with Japan reached it's bloody crescendo with the invasions and bloodbaths of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and the same was true for the Civil War, too.  The US seems to have about a 4 year limit to our patience, when the numbers of dead and wounded are huge, and the homefront sacrifices numerous and obvious.

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The US puts out pictures and video showing the driver of the rolling bomb had plenty of time to see his victims were kids. But the brave Islamic warrior didn't care. Content Warning on the link. A picture captures the... Read More


There's a point you know where you can believe God wants you to murder children or you can question your faith. There's a point where you can believe your cause needs to kill children or you can question your cause or its methods. It shows you how blind and how powerful faith and belief really are. Power enough to turn good people into something sick inside. It tells me it's very important to be careful just what you believe in and how much.

The price of having a fantastic military is the other side is not fantastic and therefore in order to fight their enemy their ruthlessness and shortcuts are sky high. So then the morals people once had are cast aside and the belief fuels acts decent people wouldn't do. Murdering kids is just another tactic. Decent humans would admit it's not worth it and surrender. To state the obvious, terrorists are not decent people.

I shudder, you know, to think of what it would be if we were the ones outclassed militarily. If we were under attack to change our ways. Would we throw away our morals to fight for our values we hold so dear? Perhaps we would cease to be decent people too. Would we kill our own children just to get at someone on the other side? How could it feel to fight for decency yet be indecent?

But then I find myself thinking, perhaps hoping, that the entire point is this. The reason we outclass them. The reason we are better organised, with bigger better guns, with more technology more production more quality is that our morals and values are better. Those values have fueled a better economy and military. A better system to use an engineering term. It's a dangerous thought, one that could easily lead to arrogance but I hold it all the same.

America will have to learn the resolve Bush nagged about, if you are right John. This will not end in 4 years. It may never end. We seem to have won Iraq, perhaps we will win Afghanistan in the 4 years but then there's all the others. Gaza, Zimbabwe, North Korea. The list goes on. And the same forces even boil inside our own borders among our own people. Terrorism, and the thoughts that fuel it, is not going away.

This is not a deed like WWII, but a task. And tasks bleed will by repetition and offer far less glory.

if counterpropaganda is a pa primary responsibilty, do we get to bust on pa when we see it uncountered in our own media? a big stink was made recently over colocating pa with io at isaf so they backed off of that. who does counterprop for the domestic ta?
I understand the need (and some would say legal) requirement to keep PA separate from the IO guys.  I'll email Jack Holt and see if he can't provide us with the official rationale behind that.

And there are rules that affect the DoDs ability to act "inside the wire" so to speak.  Lessee if I can't rattle Jack's cage on the subject.
The historic problem is coordination. Yes, in these conflicts, DOD has a big say as to want is going on; but our government has so many other agencies with a dog in this fight. In studying some of our past performance it was not difficult to watch the CIA working in one direction as State headed off somewhere else. Agriculture had people on the ground trying to help farmers, Commerce was there looking to work deals on trade, etc. Then there were the NGO's, from the Red Cross to Mormon Missionaries to Christian Youth. It was not uncommon to have two different U.S. groups working against each other.

Everyone talks about establishing values; but who is in charge of selecting what values we are supposed to be projecting? Do we work with Planned Parenthood while trying to build schools and run water pipe for a new hospital. We are famous for multitasking ourselves into a box.
I now hope I was paying close enough attention in the "Negotiating a mine field" class...

And I also must caveat this with the disclaimer that this is my opinion only and not necessarily the view of the Dept. of Defense, and is based on my 20+ years in communication, public affairs, and the U.S. Army.

That said, let's see if we can understand what's going on ...

We're talking about perceptions and semantics, for the most part. First we must understand that public affairs is a function of leadership and information operations a function of, well, operations. In the organizational structure, public affairs works for the commander as part of the special staff, along with the Chaplain, the JAG and to some extent the Provost Marshall. IO is a function of the J/G/S-3. The terms "propaganda" and "counter-propaganda" are the language of IO. "Counter-propaganda" is NOT a responsibility of public affairs.

Now we get into the really tricky areas of discussion which is going on not only here, but in many different areas and levels of our government. I don't have the room here to go into the history behind why some things are the way they are, and papers are in the process of being written both in government and academia laying this out, hopefully some will be published soon, but for now:

Public affairs derives it's existence from Title 10 of the U.S. Code as a primary function of the offices of the various service secretaries. It is separated from "publicity" and "marketing" in the wording of the appropriations from Congress and the Code of Federal Regulations and is broken down into three specific focus areas: Public Information, Command Information, and Community Relations.

IO derives it's existence from military doctrine and has many aspects all of which are operational in nature. For example when it comes to deception operations, a legitimate military operation targeting the population of a contested area, any documents released for that operation is not considered "public information" even though in this new Global Information Environment with our New Media technologies anything published can be replicated on the Web for all the world to see.

PA and IO must work together, but must also remain separated. For PA to engage in "counter-propaganda" it would give legitimacy to the adversary's "propaganda."
The dynamics are changing and we are adapting, hence the DoDLive Bloggers Roundtables and the ability to release the video of the attack which has brought us to this discussion. Our recognition, as an institution, that we have the ability to show what actually happened and to release that video documentation in a timely manner is a great step forward in our attempts to streamline our communication abilities. 

Good to see you over here, Jack.  CJTF-101 did great coming out with a product so rapidly.  It is not my purpose to detract from the impact of this story. 

When I first read

One of Public Affairs' primary responsibilities is to ensure factual reporting of events to the public
and to counter enemy propaganda.

I thought I as a member of the domestic target audience was being strategically communicated with and assured that somebody is indeed conducting counterpropaganda, which has been a pet peeve and perpetual blog topic of mine for some time.  It was always my understanding that Psychological Operations conducted tactical and operational counterprop within an operational area and Other Government Agencies were supposed to perform the counterprop mission and attempt to mitigate some of the damage enemy propaganda does to the will and morale of the American people (domestic TA).  IMO, OGA's have not covered themselves with glory on that, giving rise to civilian irregular virtual militias and People's Information Support Teams in the Counter Insurgent Supportive blogosphere. 

Communication of operational matters to internal and external audiences is just one part of PA’s function. In performing duties as one of the primary spokesmen, the PA officer’s interaction with the IO staff enables PA activities to be integrated, coordinated, and deconflicted with IO. While intents differ, PA and IO ultimately support the dissemination of information, themes, and messages adapted to their audiences. PA contributes to the achievement of military objectives, for instance, by countering adversary misinformation and disinformation through the publication of accurate information.

I hope the young journalist at Bagram who slipped that new PA mission into the first sentence of the story doesn't lose too much of his fourth point of contact over it.

I have a link rich response stacked up in the moderation queue awaiting your approval, John.