- 8/15/09, NY Times, Shanker: WASHINGTON — "The Obama administration is establishing a new unit within the State Department for countering militant propaganda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, engaging more fully than ever in a war of words and ideas that it acknowledges the United States has been losing.
- Senior officials say they consider the counterpropaganda mission to be vital
- to the war.
“Concurrent with the insurgency is an information war,” said Richard C. Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, who will direct the effort. “We are losing that war.
- “The Taliban have unrestricted, unchallenged access to the radio, which is the main means of communication,” he added. “We can’t succeed, however you define success, if we cede the airways to people who present themselves as false messengers of a prophet, which is what they do. And we need to combat it.”
The team he is putting together is the latest entry into the government’s effort to direct the flow of information in support of American policy. The campaign is scattered throughout the bureaucracy and the military, variously named
- public affairs, public diplomacy, strategic communications and information operations.
- The new campaign is especially focused on providing cellphone service, and thus some independent communications for people in remote areas where the Taliban thrive. It is a booming industry now: Afghanistan had no cellular coverage in 2001 but today has about 9.5 million subscribers....
“If we can insulate the people, separate the population from insurgents, they become less vulnerable and less susceptible to the coercion and intimidation designed to steer them away from the government of Afghanistan,” Admiral Smith said.
- “The ability to communicate empowers a population,” he said. “That is a very important principle of counterinsurgency and counterpropaganda.”
In southern Afghanistan, now the center of American military offensives under the
- troop increase ordered by President Obama,
- if they do not switch off service early each night.
That prevents villagers from calling security forces if they see militants on the move or planting roadside bombs; the lack of cellphone service at night also hobbles the police and nongovernmental development agencies....
- Expanding and securing cellphone service has the additional benefit of
- Officials involved in the new unit say they are seeking to amplify the voices of Afghans speaking to Afghans, and Pakistanis speaking to Pakistanis, rather than have “Made in the U.S.A.” stamped on the programming....
“Given the archaic values of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, we must devise policies that expose the true nature of the militants,” said Ashley Bommer, an adviser to Mr. Holbrooke. “And we must shift the paradigm so that the debate is not between the United States and the militants, but between the people and the militants.”...
- Vikram Singh, on loan from the Pentagon as Mr. Holbrooke’s senior defense adviser for the project, said the United States would begin by
“building the capabilities of the private sectors and the governments
in both of these countries to effectively communicate and engage with their own populations.”
- This is particularly important, he said, in the border areas of Pakistan and across large parts of Afghanistan that for decades had only primitive communications.
four legal FM radio stations, compared with more than 150 illegal low-watt stations run by militants,
- according to officials involved in the counterpropaganda effort. Some of the insurgent radio stations are mobile, broadcasting from vehicles
- "US Plans a Mission Against Taliban's Propaganda," via Radio Daily News