Friday, July 11, 2008

Information Operations

There is a reason why we lost the Viet Nam War. There is a reason why we are struggling with this one. We are counterinsurgency-challenged. We are not highly skilled at it as a whole. The Army is a rigid, inertia-bound organization which is in motion, but finds it difficult to change course. We are conventional warriors who find it very difficult to make the shift to being unconventional, asymmetric warriors; which are exactly what we need to be.

The basic soldier skills are not that difficult to teach or to train. How to think like an insurgent; not so easy. How not to think and behave like an elite better-than-thou soldier; not so easy. How to be a highly trained and proficient as soldiers without having to look down on everyone else; not so easy. How to see unfamiliar patterns, unfamiliar situations, unfamiliar social structures, unfamiliar relationships and find a way to read them, to come to understand; not so easy.

Learning to manage information, to use the truth, to behave in such a way that you are not afraid of the truth; not so easy. To fight lies and misrepresentations and misinformation with truth; not so easy. We are absolutely miserable at it.

That's the Army. The Armed Forces. That's our issue.

Two days ago a flurry of stories came out in various papers, some versions slightly different than others. Two separate air strikes were made in Nangarhar and Nuristan provinces respectively. The stories developed and changed slightly during the day.

The gist is that in two very remote areas there were airstrikes made that a coalition spokesman stated killed insurgents. The governors of the respective provinces provided disturbing information; civilians were killed. But it was worse; the Nangarhar deaths were a wedding party, and no less than the bride was killed. At 6:30 am, it was reported, an American jet had bombed a wedding party that had stopped to rest on the wedding march between two remote villages.

There is no more joyous event in Afghanistan than a
wedding. There is no more heinous crime than to take such joy and turn it to tragedy. Especially by killing the bride.

Note that the governor did not witness these casualties himself, but his office received calls.

It gets better. The governor of Nuristan, Governor Nuristani, added to his original story as well. The deaths in Waygal province of Nuristan, the twenty two civilians in two cars (I've seen a lot of Afghans in a car, but twenty two in two cars would be a record) were also a wedding party. Oh, the humanity!

Apparently Afghan weddings attract bombs like trailer parks attract tornadoes. What are the odds? I mean, what are the freakin' odds?

They're really not that good, I assure you. Remember, I've got the T-shirt, okay? I saw lots of wedding parties during my sojourn in A'stan; none were at 6:30 am. Read the wedding story and look at the timeline. Also note that if there is no public hall, like in a remote village, the wedding is held at the bride's parent's home.

Not the groom's.

Also, if it was the women's party, why were "only two men" killed? There would be no men with that party.

Hitler himself said, "If you tell a big enough lie and tell frequently enough, it will be believed."

Afghans do not take dead bodies to hospitals. Only the living. The dead are immediately prepared for burial. Those killed at 6:30 in the morning are required to be in the ground by sundown. If they die late in the day, the next day is okay for burial. There is no time to transport bodies from remote villages to a hospital.

Waygal has no hospital. I was in Nuristan for three months. Governor Nuristani is no saint, either. We knew that.

I have the T-shirt.

The thing is that in the types of operations that we are engaged in, we often operate in tiny groups. I have been, and O has been, and LTC Cold has been the only American within literally miles in the middle of bad guy country. The only help that we could hope to get quickly enough to make a difference was an airstrike. It is the big hammer that we carried, and at times the mere appearance of an aircraft, be it an Apache, an A-10, or an F-15, was enough to "mellow out" the insurgents.

The arrival of "air" on the scene has caused attacks to cease and has prevented attacks that were planned from happening. How do I know? I was there.

The Taliban, HiG, and the rest would love, love, love for it to be even harder than it already is to get an airstrike approved. It is SOP that anytime there is a strike, claims are made that it was a group of civilians, often a group that would add particular human interest. Women and children, especially babies, are particularly tragic victims.

Who spreads these fairy tales? Oh, only every damned newspaper in this truth forsaken country.

Oh, hey... check the bylines on the stories. Stringers. Who is feeding us this crap? Why does our media feed us this and never any of the accomplishments?

Why does our own media print enemy propaganda? They tell the lie often enough. It isn't even questioned.

The only places that I ever saw mainstream media correspondents were in Kabul and at Bagram. Those are two very very safe places. Ridiculously safe compared to being out in Tag Ab. They never went to Tag Ab. They never came out to see the villages in Nuristan struggling to find security, getting electricity and flood control for the first time. Nope, never saw them there.

Al Jazeera was in Tag Ab. Twice. The propaganda piece that the second crew shot is shown lower on this page. It's not that Tag Ab wasn't newsworthy; Al Jazeera sent a second crew in after their first crew inexplicably neglected to file a report. That shows how newsworthy Al Jazeera thought it was.

There was, during the operation, one attempt by American mainstream media journalists to attend the party. A crew from 60 Minutes was turned back when they were intercepted enroute to the Tag Ab. You never heard about that, because they were turned back because they had not gone through the proper channels to get cleared. They were practicing their usual ambush journalism and got deflected. Nothing to squawk about there, they tried to be sneaky and break the rules and they got busted. It was a non-story.

But it's worse than that; we reviled American mainstream journalists, and 99+% of Americans get their news from them. If you are reading this blog, you are not in that 99+%.

All I know is this; you are not getting the stories. There are so many people who are doing difficult, dirty, confusing, successful-by-inches work over there, and you're not getting that. Almost none of the reporters are going out there. We used to see stories about what we were doing being reported as disjointed events by some guy sitting in Kabul.

American reporters sit in Kabul and the Green Zone and send out stringers. Why is that report in the NYT written by Abdul and Sangar?

The lie is told often enough because our media is too lazy or scared to actually do their own jobs.

I remember a lie that was questioned; by myself and a lot of others.

In her latest in a series of articles called "War Torn," (catchy, isn't it?) Lizette Alvarez even dares to refer to the widely rebuked article:

"This year, a New York Times examination of killings in this country by veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan found that drinking or drug use was frequently involved in the crimes."

The newest in the series of how the war is turning soldiers and Marines into victims is about how alcohol and drug addiction is a looming problem that our PTSD-addled combat veterans bring to the table of society.

Lizette, remember, I have the T-shirt. I had the briefings, the post-deployment health assessment, I had help and counseling offered on the spot. As for fear of revelations of substance issues, there are AA meetings (which are not monitored by commands) on every major military installation. There were flyers posted on bulletin boards at Bagram for AA meetings.

As far as counseling, they practically throw it at you.

The point is that it is an individual's personal responsibility to take care of their health and that of their family. We have all seen people in our lives who had issues. Drinking, drugs, objectionable behavior... we've all seen it.

And they always had an excuse. How convenient to get into trouble and cry out that I am a victim. "It was the war," I cry, "It was the war that made me do it."

Soldiers and Marines are people. In the general population, about 10% are alcoholics. Alcoholism is a disease that does not sleep when the afflicted are not drinking. It returns with a vengeance upon return to drinking. Every year, there are nearly a half million DUI citations issued in the United States.

Most of them plead not guilty. The non-veterans would love to have such a convenient excuse. It doesn't stop them, though. The non-veterans have excuses, too. Lizette just doesn't care about their excuses, because it doesn't suit her agenda.

Demonizing soldiers and Marines, portraying us as unwittingly maimed victims... still potentially dangerous even in our victim states; what could the agenda be? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that there is an agenda. It's a series, for Pete's sake. It's already been demonstrated that Lizette manipulated data to make it appear as if returning veterans were more dangerous than non-veterans, when in fact you are actually less likely to be slaughtered by a returning war veteran than a non-veteran.

Weird, isn't it? Perhaps it's because we've seen enough death to last us awhile. Perhaps it's because we know what weapons and violence are for and this ain't it.

What could the agenda be? Suggestions, anyone?

Lizette, we are soldiers. We volunteered. We are not victims. Some of us may be hurt, and many of us have seen and done things that we hope that nobody we care about will ever have to. We were in a fight, and sometimes people get banged up in a fight. We are still soldiers, and we are still responsible.

PTSD is real, and the Army takes it very seriously. We had to have briefings and have help offered just to come home for a two week leave. We were not allowed to leave Kuwait without it. They even addressed the substance abuse issue. But most soldiers do not have issues that require intervention, and so it is up to the individual soldier first. Then it is up to their chain of command to recognize a problem and get help before there are consequences.

But we are still responsible for our actions. The worst thing you can do to us is to not hold us responsible for our own actions. It's amazing what it can do for a man to have to take responsibility for his actions.

We are not victims, we are not monsters, and we do not need to be relieved of responsibility for our own actions.

One other thing, Lizette... there are tragic stories of lives coming apart all over the place. Most of us have seen friends or classmates or even family members come unglued. A lot of people call these folks losers. Sensationalizing their problems is poor sportsmanship, really. It's just gossip writ large.

Not nice.

These are just two examples of how badly we are kicking our own ass in Information Operations. Instead of actually trying to learn about what we are trying to accomplish, our own media just reports whatever's easy. There is no meaningful discussion out there in the MSM about the goals of counterinsurgency. While I was in Tag Ab, there were a couple of little splashes on the screen back home of some vaguely detailed violence in Tag Ab. There was a lot of good work done in that valley. People back home never heard a thing about it. I couldn't write about it except in general terms, but a really professional embed could have.

The embed program really doesn't exist there. It's too much work, and it's dangerous sometimes. Kabul has amenities.

We as Americans are better insurgents than we are counterinsurgents. Counterinsurgency is the hard part, anyway. We are better in some areas than in others, but in the information fight, we suck. Military PAO's are perceived as cheerleading amateurs that nobody really listens to (when was the last time that you saw an article written by a military journalist in a non-military publication?,) and our own press is lethargic, agenda-driven and hostile.

I've said it before; the American Armed Forces are at war, America's at the mall. We are not in this together. Hey, we volunteered, it's true; but this attitude of, "Hey, we hired you to do a job... now get out of my way, there's a sale at Old Navy!" is what allows the NYT to be blatantly harmful to soldiers and Marines and get away with it.*

We don't need to be demonized, ostracized, or coddled. We are soldiers.

I would like to sit down with Lizette sometime and discover what her motivation is. Perhaps I've got it all wrong. Thus far, however, the woman just pisses me off.

In the information fight, she scores points for the other side. They used to call that "aid and comfort to the enemy." It's a crime.

*To be fair, I personally have received a ton of support from people here at home. Many people are truly patriotic, but think of this; for everyone who reads this blog and others like it, there are literally millions who don't. While this vast majority may express support on sight, tolerating this behavior from our press is dereliction. However, I read a lot of the comments on the NYT website, and most of them were cheerleading for the writer. It's depressing, really. Tolerating it may be dereliction, but buying off on it is ignorance.

"There is a principle which is proof against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance - that principle is contempt prior to investigation."

--Herbert Spencer


  1. Thank you for keeping the msm honest.Keep writing. Keep calling them on it.

  2. The MSM's blatantly Anti-American values bias is disturbing to say the least.

    It is so very important that people like you who have been there and know the reality on the ground keep reporting.

    You might want to touch base with Troy Steward at

    Troy served as an ETT in Afghanistan in 2006-2007. His son Jon is following in his father's footsteps and is serving as a PMT with the New York National Guard. He's a medic.

    Troy was able to participate in a Blogger’s roundtable with COL John Cuddy (Commander of the Regional Police Advisory Command-South in Kandahar, Afghanistan)recently.

    The Army is reaching out to bloggers to get the word out with no sugar coating.

    Thanks again for all you do.

  3. I had not visited your site in a couple of weeks. What a joy it was to find a new posting. I have forwarded the text to many co-workers, whom I hope will take time to read it. Perhaps the will move away from the 99%? As an Army Veteran, I really enjoy seeing how many of the anacronyms have stayed the same, and those that have changed. I can't believe I have been out of the Army for 16 years. My main regret is having lost touch with most, if not all, of my fellow soldiers. Reading your article has inspired me again to set aside family, work, etc, and attempt to contact them again.

    Thanks again for your service. Please be assured that for every person that buys into the media propaganda, there are others that know better, and keep the truth out there.

  4. Hi there. I was in the middle of posting some news from CENTCOM when I stole a few minutes to sneak over and read your article. ;)

    I used to write to all the papers, but my articles and comments never...NEVER...made it to print. Ya see, when they an agenda TO RUIN BUSH AND TAKE US DOWN WITH THEM, they will not print anything that does not serve that agenda. Creeps.

    I wish they would just get the lawyers out of this war and let you guys fight it. Then again, that's why I'm a civilian. I'd have let all of you kill anyone who got in your way after 9/11/2001. I still see it, the tall buildings crumbling, the people in shock and crying, the black smoke, the taste (and I didn't even taste it!), the smell (same), the anger (THAT I'VE GOT!). Either we fight to win, or we shouldn't fight. I don't want them sending people in as targets if we're not going to be able to fight. That is why I'm grateful we had President Bush in the beginning. I want my cowboy back! ;)

    In case that sounded like I don't support the mission, let me assure you I do. I've been asked to write with Eagles UP blog, Talon, and I enjoy it very much! BTW, the sites the Military has with all of this news is amazing. What happened was that the msm found out that we were going to have an information office and they had a fit. They called it the PROPOGANDA Office. Yeah, right. So we shut it down. Now look where we are...

    Great article! I'll give you a write-up and try to send readers over.

    PS. Hi Jean! It's good to see you again. Take care of yourself! You too, Membrain.

  5. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post - From the Front: 07/12/2008 - News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  6. That's some T-shirt you have! You also have my gratitude, and that of many others, for your service, your efforts and your intellectual clarity. There are more people than you might think who understand what you are saying.

    The big problem, as I see it, is the informational distance between the man-on-the-ground and the word-smith elite. I don't really believe that their biases are caused by perversity or lack of patriotism. I think it has more to do with ignorance and the fact that they only talk with one another. The frustration that soldiers have in trying to communicate to the general public is caused mostly by defects in the American communication system. The idea of funding information flow solely with advertising dollars has got to be the silliest idea ever. The Internet is our hope. So keep writing and keep trying to break through.

  7. Well said!! I am the proud mother of a soldier currently deployed in Afghanistan and am disgusted with all the negative, agenda pushing coverage by the media.
    Their insistance of portraying only the negative is anti-military at best. Could they perhaps be in kahoots with the enemy?

  8. I wonder if you actually believe this.

    I will readily grant that a lack of a major war in the last 30 years has resulted in Generals with little practical experience, although I am against starting wars just to keep the soldiers in practice.

    Do you believe the only reason the Nazis and Tojo didn't win was bad tactics? That the Soviets could have won the Cold War, if only they'd been a little smarter about it?

    Perhaps you are right.

    Perhaps, with enough force potential, anyone can be cowed and bowed into any position.

    Why should the Pathan support Kabul? Is there some logic to it? "Do it or Else!" is hardly the kind of thing that creates a stable nation.

    Sir Durand carved the Pathans in half. He didn't care any bit at all about the (now) 25 million Pashto-speakers, the largest language group on Earth without a country. You don't sound like you care, either.

    Your only concern seems to be whether or not we "win."

    I will not speak now on the behavior of troops returned home, but I can guarantee, 100%, a way to prevent stories like that of Gov. Nuristani (if, as you say, it was false, I have no way of knowing) from ever being repeated again.

    Stop using air assaults against a low-tech enemy! This seems so obvious.

    At this point, I have to root for a super-powerful alien invader to come to Earth, demand that we change our governments the way they want. If anyone fights back, even a little bit, they use space-based weapons platforms to "surgically" remove threats like the State of Idaho.


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