Thursday, October 20, 2005

Afghan Psyop: Something's not Right Here

This doesn't add up.

From the NYT:
WASHINGTON, Oct. 19 - The Pentagon announced Wednesday night that the Army had started a criminal investigation into allegations that American soldiers in Afghanistan had burned the bodies of two dead Taliban fighters and then used the charred and smoking corpses in a propaganda campaign against the insurgents.

The events were shown on an Australian television program, broadcast there on Wednesday night, depicting what is described as an American psychological operations team broadcasting taunts over a loudspeaker toward a village thought to be harboring Taliban fighters and sympathizers, according to a transcript of the program…

…a soldier identified as Sgt. Jim Baker, said: "You allowed your fighters to be laid down facing west and burned. You are too scared to come down and retrieve the bodies. This just proves you are the lady boys we always believed you to be."

After news agencies reported the broadcast, the Pentagon said such acts were forbidden and began the criminal investigation.

Several senior officials said preliminary indications suggested that the video and the program's translation were accurate, and that the incident posed the potential to do further harm in the Islamic world to the image of the United States, already badly tarnished by the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal…

… A statement issued by the Central Command said "desecration, abuse or inappropriate treatment of enemy combatants" were never condoned and that they would violate United States policy "as well as the Geneva Convention."

"This command takes all allegations of misconduct or inappropriate behavior seriously," Maj. Gen. Jason K. Kamiya, the American commander of daily tactical operations in Afghanistan, said in a separate statement issued by the Central Command. "If the allegation is substantiated, the appropriate course of action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and corrective action will be taken."

Did we really have a psy-op team running around Afghanistan doing this sort of thing--and doing it in front of Australian TV cameras--without the knowledge and/or permission of Central Command or General Kamiya's staff? If so, this incident signals a serious breakdown of command and control. If not--if someone higher up was in on the operation--the investigation carries the odor of a cover-up.

What's more, do we really have "professional" psyop people who thought the tactical impact of an action like this would justify the global negative blowback that would occur when the story got out? If we do, the entire psyop organization needs to be shut down NOW.


  1. Again, I'm with Billmon -- does anyone really believe the Afghans who took on the Russians are a buncha girly-men?


  2. Typical that the psychologically challenged are in charge of psychological operations, Jeff.

  3. Umm, all the Afghanis will be enraged by this insult to their bravery, not just Taliban-affiliated fighters. I haven't read a single news report that questions their courage, quite the contrary in fact.

  4. Agree, TL. On top of everything else, this "psyop" was so psychologically stupid it defies, well, sanity.

  5. Airborne3017:28 PM

    As a Psyop specialist with an advanced degree in Psychology, I would agree that this was foolish. However, do you really think that 2 psyop Sergeants did this on their own? I was a tactical psyop team leader in Afghanistan. I would have done everything possible to save the infantry from themselves, but they must ultimately follow orders. There were officers in the field directing those actions. It's easy to blame a couple of reserve enlisted guys. That's what they did with Specialist Charles Graner. They called him a ring leader. Granted, he is a very sick man, but there are no E-4 ring leaders in the Army. They are called officers. As far as Taliban courage goes, they run more than they fight. They are bullies who pick on the weak and oppressed. They abuse women and children. They are cowards and deserve to be called just that.

  6. Airborne,

    That's precisely what has me stymied. Was discipline really that bad in these psyop units? Who really called the shots?

    As with so many things in this so called war, we'll probably never know.

    I lament, though, that this is just another lasting dent in the Pentagon's credibility.

  7. Airborne30112:18 PM

    It is probably not the discipline as much as it is a lack of training. Reserve Psyop Specialists are put through a one month MOS course and then sent to the field. Effective psyop takes a bit more than that. We are stretched incredibly thin. Of course, professionalism and discipline depends on the unit. I am as confused about the psyop role in this debacle as anyone else.

  8. I can certainly believe the "lack of training" part. Real warriors shoot guns and drop bombs. Stuff like psyops is for sissies, and it doesn't get the attention it deserves.

  9. airborne30110:00 PM

    True enough! By the way, I love your blog. The Navy stories are funny as hell. Prior to joining the Army reserve after 9-11, I was an OS onboard a carrier. That was back in 70s. I don't miss being at sea, but I miss the humorous situations.

  10. Thanks for the nice words, Airborne.

    I don't miss being at sea either! ;-)