The Decisive Weapon: A Brigade Combat Team
Commander's Perspective on Information Operations
NOTE: This article was solicited from the author
by the editor in chief of Military Review subsequent to a briefing
the author presented to the Information Operations Symposium II
held at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, on 15 December 2005. The text
is an edited version of a transcript from that briefing. It includes
additional material and clarification of facts and events provided
by the author.
Duty in Iraq has a way of debunking myths and
countering ivory tower theories with hard facts on the ground. I
admit that while I was preparing to serve in Iraq as a brigade commander,
I was among the skeptics who doubted the value of integrating information
operations (IO) into my concept of operations. Most of the officers
on my combat team shared my doubts about the relative importance
of information operations. Of course, in current army literature
there is a great deal of discussion about IO theory. There is significantly
less practical information, however, that details how theory can
be effectively translated into practice by tactical units. My purpose
in writing this article is to provide commanders the insights I
gleaned from my experience.
Soon after taking command of my brigade, I
quickly discovered that IO was going to be one of the two most vital
tools (along with human intelligence) I would need to be successful
in a counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign. COIN operations meant competing
daily to favorably influence the perceptions of the Iraqi population
in our area of operations (AO). I quickly concluded that, without
IO, I could not hope to shape and set conditions for my battalions
or my Soldiers to be successful.
It certainly did not take long to discover
that the traditional tools in my military kit bag were insufficient
to successfully compete in this new operational environment. As
a brigade commander, I was somewhat surprised to find myself spending
70 percent of my time working and managing my intelligence and IO
systems and a relatively small amount of my time directly involved
with the traditional maneuver and fire support activities. This
was a paradigm shift for me. The reality I confronted was far different
from what I had professionally prepared for over a lifetime of conventional
training and experience.
My brigade, the 2d Brigade Combat Team (BCT),
was part of the 1st Armored Division. For the first 12 months in
Iraq, we were task organized in Baghdad with up to eight battalions,
roughly 5,000 strong, all trained for conventional combat. The BCT
consisted of two mechanized infantry battalions, a cavalry squadron,
an armor battalion, a field artillery battalion, an engineer battalion,
a support battalion, and a military police battalion. At headquarters
were staff enablers such as psychological operations (PSYOP) and
civil affairs (CA) detachments. At one point, my task organization
also included 12 U.S. Army National Guard or Reserve Component companies.
My brigade's AO covered roughly 400 square
kilometers and encompassed 2 of the 9 major districts in Baghdad:
Karkh and Karada. In those 2 heavily populated and congested districts
lived between 700,000 to a million citizens. The area contained
at least 72 mosques and churches.
In the northwest part of our AO, the population
was predominantly Sunni. This area also contained a small neighborhood
called Kaddamiya, where Saddam Hussein had grown up. Not surprisingly,
that community was a bastion of staunchly pro-Baath sentiment and
was steadfastly loyal to Saddam. Such demographic factors made that
part of our AO particularly volatile and problematic.
In contrast, our area also contained the Karada
district, one of the most affluent parts of the city. Three universities
are located there, Baghdad university being at the very southeastern
tip. Many Western-trained and educated elites live in Karada, and
many of Baghdad's banks and headquarters for major businesses are
there. The population in this area is characteristically more secular
in its views and somewhat more receptive to outside ideas and influence.
In addition, 70 percent of the embassies and diplomatic residences
in Baghdad were situated in our AO (figure 1).
The southeastern region of our area was home
to a principally Shiite population. The infrastructure in this area
was, in comparison to other parts of the city, shabby. In many places
the population lived in almost uninhabitable conditions, the neighborhoods
having been largely neglected by the Baathist regime for years (figure
Another significant component of this complex
society was the Christian population. Baghdad has the largest Christian
population in the country, and it was also concentrated inside our
The demographic diversity in 2d Brigade's AO
produced a lot of different ethnic, cultural, and religious dynamics.
Consequently, each area presented unique IO challenges. And, of
course, this already complex situation was made more complex by
insurgent and terrorist violence and the persistent lack of infrastructure
and basic services.
Also of note was what proved to be an additional
geographic area with a completely different IO population of interest,
one that had its own set of parochial concerns and priorities: the
Green Zone. This area housed the headquarters of the Coalition Provisional
Authority and Combined Joint Task Force 7.
Another vital demographic, one that my commanders
and I found we had inadvertently taken for granted and failed to
effectively address, was our own Soldiers. Most news that Soldiers
typically received came from watching CNN, the BBC, or Fox news.
Soldiers were getting the same inaccurate, slanted news that the
American public gets. With a significant amount of negative news
being broadcast into their living quarters on a daily basis, it
was difficult for Soldiers to realize they were having a positive
impact on our area of operations.
Once we appreciated the dynamics of the demographics
in our AO, we found that we could easily fit Iraqi citizens into
three broad categories: those who would never accept the Coalition's
presence in Iraq (religious fundamentalists, insurgents, terrorists);
those who readily accepted the Coalition's presence in Iraq (typically
secular, Western-educated pragmatists); and the vast majority of
Iraqis, who were undecided. We referred to this last category as
the silent majority and focused much of our information operations
on influencing this group.
Adjusting the Plan to IO Realities
One of the first challenges I faced was to
understand the overarching IO plan for Iraq and, more important,
how my combat team was supposed to support it. Part of the challenge
at this time for everyone-battalion through corps-was our lack of
IO experience and our ignorance of how valuable IO is to COIN success.
In fact, during the summer of 2003 there was still much debate over
whether or not we were even fighting an insurgency. The IO support
we did receive from higher headquarters included broad themes and
messages that we were directed to communicate to the local populations.
Unfortunately, these messages were often too broad to resonate with
the diverse subpopulations within brigade and battalion areas.
This brings me to my first essential IO observation:
to be effective, you must tailor themes and messages to specific
audiences. IO planners at commands above division level appeared
to look at the Iraqis as a single, homogeneous population that would
be receptive to centrally developed, all-purpose, general themes
and messages directed at Iraqis as a group. In many cases, the guidance
and products we received were clearly developed for a high-level
diplomatic audience and were inappropriate or ineffective for the
diverse populations clustered within our battalion AO.
When we did request and receive theme support
or IO products, they were typically approved too late to address
the issue for which we had requested them. To overcome what was
an ineffective and usually counterproductive attempt by the IO/PSYOP
agencies at higher levels of command to centrally control themes
and messaging, we were compelled to initiate a more tailored IO
process. We developed products that incorporated relevant themes
and messages fashioned specifically for the diverse groups and micropopulations
in our area of operations.
A guiding imperative was to produce and distribute
IO products with focused messages and themes more quickly than our
adversaries. Only then could we stay ahead of the extremely adroit
and effective information operations the enemy waged at neighborhood
and district levels.
We were also initially challenged in working
through the bureaucratic IO/PSYOP culture. We often faced situations
where we needed handbills specifically tailored to the unique circumstances
and demographics of the neighborhoods we were attempting to influence.
However, the PSYOP community routinely insisted that handbills had
to be approved through PSYOP channels at the highest command levels
before they could be cleared for distribution. This procedure proved
to be much too slow and cumbersome to support our IO needs at the
Good reasons exist for some central control
over IO themes and products under some circumstances, but information
operations are Operations, and in my opinion that means commander's
business. IO is critical to successfully combating an insurgency.
It fights with words, symbols, and ideas, and it operates under
the same dynamics as all combat operations. An old army saw says
that the person who gets to the battle the "firstest"
with the "mostest" usually wins, and this applies indisputably
to information operations. In contrast, a consistent shortcoming
I experienced was that the enemy, at least initially, consistently
dominated the IO environment faster and more thoroughly than we
did. Our adversary therefore had considerable success in shaping
and influencing the perceptions of the Iraqi public in his favor.
The ponderous way in which centrally managed PSYOP products were
developed, vetted, and approved through bureaucratic channels meant
they were simply not being produced quickly enough to do any good.
Just as important, they were not being tailored precisely enough
to influence our diverse audiences' opinions about breaking events.
Faced with bureaucratic friction and cumbersome
policy, and thrust into an IO arena quite different from that for
which most of us had been trained, I had to make decisions concerning
IO matters based on common sense and mission requirements. To this
end, I had to consciously interpret policy and regulatory guidance
in creative ways to accomplish the mission as we saw it, though
in a manner such that those who wrote the original regulations and
guidance probably had not intended. This was necessary because Cold
War regulations and policies were holding us hostage to old ideas
and old ways of doing business. They were simply no longer valid
or relevant to the challenges we were facing in this extremely fluid,
nonlinear, media-centric COIN environment that was Baghdad circa
Of course, such an approach made some people
uncomfortable. As a rule, if our application of IO techniques was
perceived to violate a strict interpretation of policy or regulation,
I asked myself: is it necessary to accomplish our mission, and is
our tactic, technique, or procedure morally and ethically sound?
If the answer was yes, I generally authorized the activity and informed
my higher headquarters.
We were not a renegade operation, however.
If what we thought we had to do ran counter to written policies
and guidance, I kept my division commander informed in detail of
what, when, and why we were doing it. Fortunately, the command environment
was such that initiative, innovation, and common-sense pragmatism
were supported in the face of uncertainty and lack of relevant doctrine.
One example of this sort of support was our decision to adopt, as
a policy, the engagement of foreign, Iraqi, and international media
at the earliest opportunity following a sensational act of insurgent
The guidance we were operating within was that
brigades could not conduct press conferences. In my view, that policy
was counterproductive. Headquarters above division were usually
slow to react to major events involving terrorism on the streets,
and costly hours would go by without an appropriate public response
to major terrorist incidents. We experienced firsthand the detrimental
effects that this ceding of the information initiative to insurgents
was having in our area. The Iraqis had increasingly easy access
to TV and radio, but restrictions prevented us from engaging those
media to rapidly, efficiently, and directly communicate our public
information messages at critical times. By contrast, press reports
appeared quickly in the Arab media showing death and destruction
in great detail, which undermined confidence in the ability of the
Iraqi Provisional Council and the Coalition to provide security.
Our adversary also frequently twisted media
accounts in a way that successfully assigned public blame to the
Coalition-and the 2d Brigade specifically-for perpetrating the violent
attacks. When slow IO responses and outright public information
inaction in the face of such incidents dangerously stoked public
discontent, we decided to engage the media on our own in order to
get the truth out to the multitudes of people living in our area.
If we were going to influence our silent majority successfully,
we were going to have to convince them that it was in their best
personal and national interest to support the Coalition's efforts.
We had to convince them that the insurgents and terrorists were
responsible for harming Iraqi citizens and inhibiting local and
As an illustration, on 18 January 2004 a suicide
bomber detonated a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED)
during morning rush hour at a well-known Baghdad checkpoint called
assassin's Gate, a main entrance into the Green Zone. This attack
killed about 50 Iraqis waiting at the checkpoint. While we were
managing the consequences of the incident, which included dealing
with a considerable number of international and Arab media, I was
instructed not to release a statement to the press-higher headquarters
would collect the facts and release them at a Coalition-sponsored
press conference to be held at 1600 Baghdad time.
Unfortunately, the terrorists responsible for
this bombing were not constrained from engaging the press. While
precious time was being spent "gathering facts," the enemy
was busily exploiting to their advantage the ensuing chaos. The
message they passed to the press was that Coalition Soldiers were
responsible for the casualties at the checkpoint because of an overreaction
to somebody shooting at them from the intersection; that is, the
terrorists were spreading a rumor that the carnage on the street
was not the result of a VBIED but, rather, the result of an undisciplined
and excessive use of force by my Soldiers.
As precious time slipped by and with accusations
multiplying in the Arab media and tempers heating up, we made a
conscious decision that our field grade officers would talk to the
press at the site and give them the known facts; in effect, we would
hold a stand-up, impromptu press conference. We also decided that
in all future terrorist attacks, the field grade officers' principle
job would be to engage the press-especially the Arab press-as quickly
as possible while company grade officers managed the tactical situation
at the incident site.
Subsequently, when such incidents occurred,
we took the information fight to the enemy by giving the free press
the facts as we understood them as quickly as we could in order
to stay ahead of the disinformation and rumor campaign the enemy
was sure to wage. We aggressively followed up our actions by updating
the reporters as soon as more information became available. As a
result, the principal role of field grade officers at incident sites
was to engage the press, give them releasable facts, answer questions
as quickly and honestly as possible with accurate information, and
keep them updated as more information became known.
Our proactive and transparent approach proved
to be an essential tool for informing and influencing the key Iraqi
audiences in our AO; it mitigated adverse domestic reaction. Our
quick response helped dispel the harmful rumors that nearly always
flowed in the wake of major incidents.
I heard that the methods we were using with
the media immediately following such incidents caused considerable
hand-wringing and resentment in some circles. However, no one ever
ordered us to stop, no doubt because the positive effects were clearly
Executing Our IO Plan
My second IO observation is that you have no
influence with the press if you do not talk to them. Moreover, trying
to ignore the media by denying them access or refusing to talk can
result in the press reporting news that is inaccurate, biased, and
frankly counterproductive to the mission. Not talking to the press
is the equivalent of ceding the initiative to the insurgents, who
are quite adept at spinning information in adverse ways to further
The way we adapted to working with the media
contrasted significantly with our initial approach. At first, we
allowed reporters to come into our unit areas and, essentially,
wander around. What resulted was hit or miss as to whether reporters
would find a good theme to report on or whether they would stumble
onto something they did not understand and publish a story that
was out of context or unhelpful. When this happened, we would scratch
our heads and say, "Gee, these press guys just don't get it."
actually, we were the ones not getting it. We lacked a good plan
on how to work with the press and interest them in the really great
things happening in our area.
Recognizing this, we set about preparing our
spokespersons and Soldiers to engage the media in a systematic,
deliberate manner. We became familiar with what the media needed
to know and adept at providing the information they required as
quickly as possible. At the same time, we ensured that the messages
and supporting themes we felt were important were getting out.
To impress on our leaders and Soldiers the
need for a press-engagement strategy, we emphasized agenda-setting.
I conveyed the manner in which I wanted my leaders to approach this
issue by asking how many of them would just let me go down to their
motor pools and walk around without them grabbing me and at least
trying to get me to look at the positive things they wanted to show
me (while also trying to steer me away from the things that were
perhaps "still a work in progress"). I told them: "all
of you guys understand and do that. So from now on, when working
with the media, adopt this same kind of approach."
Meeting Iraqi expectations. One of the more
difficult credibility challenges we encountered among the Iraqis
was a consequence of the initial mismanagement of Iraqi expectations
before we ever crossed the berm into Iraq. As a result, we were
met with enormously unrealistic expectations that we had to manage
and were simply unable to gratify in a timely manner. Such expectations
grew out of Coalition pronouncements before Soldiers arrived that
extolled how much better off the average Iraqi citizen's life was
going to be when Saddam and his regime were gone.
The concept of "better" proved to
be a terrible cultural misperception on our part because we, the
liberators, equated better with not being ruled by a brutal dictator.
In contrast, a better life for Iraqis implied consistent, reliable
electricity; food; medical care; jobs; and safety from criminals
and political thugs. When those same Iraqis were sitting in Baghdad
in August 2003 suffering 115-degree heat with no electricity, an
unreliable sewage system, contaminated water, no prospects for a
job, lack of police security, periodic social and economic disruption
because of insurgent attacks, and no income or pensions with which
to support their families, better had become a problematic concept.
It took on the psychic dimensions of having been betrayed by the
Coalition. Unfortunately, this view was exacerbated by the average
Iraqis' man-on-the moon analogy: if you Americans are capable of
putting a man on the moon, why can't you get the electricity to
come on? if you are not turning the electricity on, it must be because
you don't want to and are punishing us.
We came to realize that any chance of success
with information operations was specifically tied to immediate,
visible actions to improve the average Iraqi's quality of life.
Until there was tangible improvement that the Iraqis could experience
and benefit from firsthand, lofty pronouncements about how much
better life would be under democratic pluralism, as well as the
value of secular principles of tolerance and national unity, were
meaningless. This leads to my third IO observation: there is a direct
correlation between our credibility and our ability to demonstrably
improve the quality of life, physical security, and stability in
a society. Until we could do the latter, we would continue to lack
credibility. This was especially true because we were agents of
change from a Western world the Iraqis had been taught to hate virtually
Reaching out to the community. Iraqis in general
had little visibility of the positive aspects of the Coalition and
U.S. Presence in the country. Positive economic, political, and
social reforms and improvements in the security environment generally
went unnoticed. Collectively, the Iraqis were simply getting too
little information on the good things being accomplished. International
and Arab media failed to report favorable news, and little information
was being passed by word of mouth. Meanwhile, efforts by Coalition
forces to share information were limited because we lacked credibility
and because many Iraqi citizens did not understand the horrific
toll the insurgency was exacting on Iraqi lives and how much it
was affecting infrastructure repair. The problem was that we did
not have a coordinated, deliberate plan at the brigade level to
provide timely, accurate, focused information to communicate these
facts. This changed as we developed an IO concept based on a limited
number of themes supported by accurate, detailed messages delivered
repetitively to key target audiences.
Preventing IO fratricide. Our brigade IO effort
did not begin as a centrally coordinated program within my BCT but,
rather, evolved as our understanding of the importance of synchronized
IO activities matured. Initially, well-intentioned commanders, many
of whom lacked clearly defined brigade guidance, had independently
arrived at the same conclusion: they needed an IO plan. Each had
therefore begun developing and executing his own IO effort. On the
surface this was fine: Great commanders were using initiative to
solve problems and accomplish the mission. Unfortunately, because
our activities were not coordinated and synchronized, we often disseminated
For example, one battalion IO message might
state that a recent operation had resulted in the capture of 10
insurgents with no civilian casualties. Referring to the same operation,
an adjacent battalion might inform its Iraqi citizens that 5 insurgents
had been captured and 3 civilians accidentally injured. From the
Iraqi perspective, because our information was inconsistent, we
were not being honest.
One of our major objectives was to earn the
Iraqis' trust and confidence. If we continued to contradict ourselves
or provide inaccurate information, we would never achieve this goal.
We termed this phenomenon of contradictory IO statements "IO
fratricide." The remedy for this challenge leads to a fourth
significant IO observation: A major IO goal at tactical and operational
levels is getting the citizens in your AO to have trust and confidence
We have all heard about "winning hearts
and minds." I do not like this phrase, and I liked it less
and less as experience taught me its impracticality. The reality
is that it will be a long, long time before we can truly win the
hearts and minds of Arabs in the Middle East. Most of the people
have been taught from birth to distrust and hate us. Consequently,
I did not like my Soldiers using the phrase because it gave them
the idea that to be successful they had to win the Iraqis' hearts
and minds, which translated into attempts at developing legitimate
friendships with the Iraqis. However, in my view, even with considerable
effort it is possible to cultivate friendships with only a small
segment of the Iraqis with whom we have frequent contact.
Unfortunately, befriending a small portion
of the population will not help us convince the remaining Iraqi
citizens to begin tolerating or working with us. For us, given the
amount of time we had to influence our target population, the more
effective plan was to prioritize our efforts toward earning the
grudging respect of our target population within the 12 months we
would occupy our AO. This was a more realistic goal. If we could
demonstrate to our population that we were truthful and that we
followed through on everything we said we would, then we could earn
the respect of a population and culture that was predisposed to
Conversely, I felt that it would take considerable
effort and time (resources we did not have) to develop legitimate
friendships-assuming friendships were possible on a broad scale.
So, by replacing "winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqis"
with "earning the trust and confidence of the Iraqis,"
I attempted to provide a mental construct to guide our Soldiers
and leaders in all aspects of the IO campaign.
Subsequently, we began to formulate a general
concept for IO based on the objective of garnering the trust, confidence,
and respect, however grudging, of the various populations. Our overarching
goal was to convince the silent majority that their personal and
national interests resided with the Coalition's efforts, not with
the insurgents'. If we were to succeed, it was imperative to drive
a wedge between the insurgents and the Iraqi population. Manning
the IO cell. Staffing an IO cell at brigade level was another challenge.
Because we were not authorized many of the military occupational
specialties necessary to plan, coordinate, and control information
operations, we built our own IO working group (IOWG) out of hide.
Our IOWG consisted of senior officers from the PSYOP and CA detachments
attached to the brigade, one intelligence officer detailed to serve
as our public affairs officer (PAO), an engineer officer, and the
brigade fire support officer.
The engineer officer was key because much of
the visible progress we were enjoying in our AO was the result of
renovation and reconstruction activities. The engineer officer maintained
visibility on these projects to ensure that we did not miss opportunities
to inform the Iraqis of any progress.
Adding a PAO to the IOWG was an obvious step.
Because of the immense interest in our operations shown by international
and Arab media, I had to assign this duty full time to one of my
most competent and articulate officers. Subsequently, we realized
that we needed to expand our public affairs activities and therefore
hired two Iraqi citizens with media experience to manage our activities
with the Arab press.
In concert, we leveraged the doctrinal knowledge
of our PSYOP and CA officers to organize activities and develop
messages and distribution concepts. Finally, because our IO activities
were ultimately "targeting" specific demographic elements
in our AO, it was a natural fit to place the brigade fire support
officer in charge of the IOWG.
Evolving unity of effort. Our approach to conducting
IO evolved over time, out of the operational necessity to accomplish
our mission. We were probably a good 3 to 4 months into our tour
before we gained the requisite experience and understanding of key
IO factors. We then began to deliberately develop a structure and
mechanism to systematically synchronize our information operations
throughout the brigade. The following observations ultimately helped
shape our operational construct:
-It is imperative to earn the trust and confidence
of the indigenous population in your AO. They might never "like"
you, but I am convinced you can earn their respect.
-To defeat the insurgency, you must convince
the (silent) majority of the population that it is in their best
personal and national interest to support Coalition efforts and,
conversely, convince them not to support the insurgents.
-For information operations to be effective,
you must have focused themes that you disseminate repetitively to
your target audience.
-Target audiences are key. You should assume
that the silent majority will discount most of the information Coalition
forces disseminate simply because they are suspicious of us culturally.
Therefore, you must identify and target respected community members
with IO themes. If you can create conditions where Arabs are communicating
your themes to Arabs, you can be quite effective.
-Being honest in the execution of information
operations is highly important. This goes back to developing trust
and confidence, especially with target audiences. If you lose your
credibility, you cannot conduct effective IO. Therefore, you should
never try to implement any sort of IO "deception" operations.
Commander's Vision and Guidance
Visualizing and describing a concept of operation,
one of a commander's greatest contributions to his organization,
was a contribution I had yet to provide to my combat team. It was
essential to do so immediately. I also understood that after developing
an IO plan, I would have to act energetically to ensure that subordinate
commanders embraced information operations and executed them according
to my expectations. I did, and they embraced the concept and ultimately
improved on it. My fifth IO observation is that for all types of
military operations, the commander's vision and intent are essential,
but when directing subordinate commanders to perform outside of
their comfort zones, personal involvement is especially necessary
to ensure that the commander's concept is executed according to
After establishing an initial IO cell, we obviously
needed to develop an IO concept of operation that would synchronize
our collective efforts. The centerpiece of this concept was the
decision to dedicate brigade IO efforts toward two major themes
and five target audiences (figure 3). The two major themes were
to convince the silent majority of Iraqis in our AO that the economic,
political, and social reforms being implemented were in their personal
and national interest to support, and to discredit insurgent and
terrorist activities in order to deny them support by the silent
Our overall target audience was clearly the
silent majority. However, to reach them and to ensure that our messages
and themes would resonate with them, we determined that we needed
to use mainly Iraqi proxies to convey our messages. We therefore
identified five groups of Iraqis that had significant influence
among the population: local imams and priests, local and district
council members, staff and faculty from the universities, Arab and
international media, and local sheiks and tribal leaders. Armed
with a conceptual framework for conducting information operations
throughout the brigade, we then wrote and published an IO annex.
This leads to my sixth IO observation: an IO campaign has a greater
likelihood of success if messages are simple and few, and repeated
Repeating themes and messages. While developing
my commander's guidance, I recalled that the average person has
a hard time remembering even simple concepts if he is only exposed
to the concept once. A person watching commercials on TV, for example,
must watch the same commercial 10 or 12 times before he retains
the message and becomes inclined to buy the product. Keeping this
in mind, we strove for sufficient repetition whenever we disseminated
information. To influence the population, it was important to develop
and repeat the messages that focused on our two themes, and to ensure
that they were accurate and consistent.
Staying focused. Our ultimate IO objective
was to convince the majority of the Iraqis in our area that they
should tolerate our short-term occupation because we, working with
them, could create conditions that would lead to a better life for
them individually and collectively. As mentioned earlier, we developed
two overarching themes that, if communicated often and convincingly
to the Iraqis, would contribute to our goal. To support our first
theme (convincing the Iraqis that it was in their personal and national
interest to support reform initiatives), we defined success as progress
being made economically, socially, politically, and in security.
To support our second theme (discrediting the insurgents and terrorists),
we took every opportunity to draw attention to the destructive,
vicious disregard the enemy had for the Iraqi people and the adverse
effects their actions were having on individual and national progress.
With much command emphasis, we developed metrics
and the information requirements to support them. We then meticulously
collected information from throughout the brigade area in support
of the metrics, which we integrated into IO messages to bolster
our two major themes. Using "economic reform," for example,
we tracked the status of every brigade renovation and reconstruction
project. These projects were effective in supporting our first theme
because they directly resulted in quality-of-life improvements for
the Iraqis. Better schools, cleaner drinking water, functional sewage
disposal, more efficient distribution of electricity in our area,
functioning health clinics and hospitals, and repair of university
schools are some examples of the information we used to substantiate
We maintained a running total of the new projects
we had started, how many were in various stages of completion, how
many had been completed, and how much money the Iraqi transitional
government, the U.S. Government, or the international community
had contributed to each. We also collected detailed information
about insurgent and terrorist activities in our area to support
our second theme. We tracked the number of Iraqi citizens killed
or injured because of insurgent activities each day, the type of
property damage and associated dollar value of damage caused by
the insurgents, and the adverse effect that insurgent attacks were
having on the quality of life (hours of daily electricity diminished,
fuel shortages, number of days lost on completing vital infrastructure
projects, and so forth).
One of our early IO challenges was maintaining
consistent, accurate, noncontradictory IO messages. To address the
challenge, we codified in our IO annex the kind of information to
be collected, along with the requirement to roll up such information
and submit it to the brigade IO cell each week. The cell used this
precise, accurate information to develop talking points for all
brigade leaders, and the points were disseminated to subordinate
commands in our weekly fragmentary order. As a result, when we spoke
with the media, government officials, imams and priests, university
staff and faculty, and tribal sheiks, we were all saying the same
thing-one band, one sound-all the time, with talking points crafted
to reinforce our two themes.
Making IO part of overall operations. Because
battalion leaders were busy fighting a war and dealing with lots
of other problems, it would have been easy for them to place less
and less priority on the brigade IO plan until it was subsumed by
some other priority. Therefore, I knew that if I did not emphasize
IO, it would not become a cornerstone of our daily operations. I
felt strongly enough about the need for a brigade-wide IO effort
that I made it one of my top priorities, so that the battalion commanders
would follow suit as well.
Almost all of our IO activities were codified
in our IO annex, which we developed and issued as a fragmentary
order. This detailed annex described our two major themes and five
target audiences, and it directed subordinate commands to conduct
meetings, either weekly or bi-weekly depending on the audience,
with the leaders of our targeted audiences (figure 4). The annex
also directed subordinate commands to collect the information needed
to support our weekly talking points, provided specific guidance
on how to work with the media, and stipulated many other tasks that
were necessary to support the brigade IO concept. I did not leave
the "who and how often" up to the battalion commanders.
They could not say, "I know I'm supposed to meet with these
imams this week, but I'm just too busy." The engagement was
To manage this process further, I required
weekly reports. If a commander failed to conduct a mandatory target
audience engagement, I demanded an immediate justification. I do
not typically operate in such a directive mode, but I felt such
an approach was necessary, at least initially, to ensure that our
IO plan developed into something more than a good idea.
Not surprisingly, there were some growing pains,
even gnashing of teeth. But once commanders saw and felt the positive
effects we were having, they bought in and the program became a
standard part of how we did business.
To institutionalize the IO process even further
and to habituate battalion commanders to it, I required monthly
backbriefs, not unlike quarterly training briefings but focused
on IO activities. The commanders briefed from prepared slides in
a standardized format. They addressed such topics as the frequency
of engagements with targeted audiences in their areas, the number
of Arab press engagements conducted, and a roll-up of directed information
requirements collected that month in support of our major IO themes.
They were also expected to brief what they had accomplished for
the month, and what their plans were for the next month, specifically
highlighting planned changes and adaptations.
This briefing technique improved my situational
awareness of the brigade's IO and provided a forum where leaders
could share ideas and best practices. For example, one of the commanders
might brief a new way in which insurgents were attempting to discredit
Coalition forces, then address what he was doing to counter it.
Other commanders could anticipate similar attempts in their AOs
and take proactive measures to deny insurgent success.
When we executed more traditional operations,
I gave the battalion leadership great latitude to plan and execute
in their battlespace. For information operations, however, I felt
I had to be directive to ensure compliance with the plan I envisioned.
Developing talking points. We developed two
sets of talking points to support our themes. The first set came
from input the battalions provided weekly. It addressed what the
insurgents were doing that adversely affected the Iraqis, and detailed
actions showing how Iraqi lives were getting better because of cooperative
Coalition and Iraqi successes. This information was consolidated
and vetted by the IO cell, then pushed back out to the battalions
to provide consistent, accurate talking points and to preclude us
from committing IO fratricide by contradicting ourselves.
The other set of talking points were templated
standing sound bites for engagements of opportunity that might occur
due to catastrophic events. We could not predict when, but we knew
suicide bombings and other sensational insurgent attacks were going
to occur, and we wanted officers who would be the first to arrive
to have some handy formatted guidance with which to engage the media
and local officials who were sure to show up. These standard talking
points gave the first company commander or battalion commander on
the scene sufficient material to talk to the media with confidence.
The talking points also helped commanders stay
on theme and make the points that we wanted to make. While the talking
points were general, they were still specific enough and timely
enough to satisfy the press. The standard talking points also allowed
us to shape the information environment somewhat by suggesting what
the focus of an incident should be rather than leaving it up to
the media to find an interpretation (which the insurgents were often
clever at providing).
Along with the five target audiences that we
engaged with our weekly talking points, we actually had a sixth
audience: our own Soldiers. As our own quality of life began to
mature, our Soldiers gained easy access to satellite TV. Typically,
they would watch CNN, the BBC, FOX, or some other major international
news media. It quickly became clear to us that if these organizations
were the most influential sources of information Soldiers were exposed
to, they would receive unbalanced information from which to develop
their opinions of the effect their efforts were having in this war.
I remembered talking about Soldier morale with
Major General Martin E. Dempsey, who said that a Soldier's morale
was a function of three things: believing in what he is doing, knowing
when he is going home, and believing that he is winning. Watching
the international news was not necessarily going to convince anyone
that we were winning. Therefore, we decided to take the same information
we were collecting to support our two IO themes and use it as command
information for our Soldiers, so they could better understand how
we were measuring success and winning, and be able to appreciate
the importance of their contributions.
Value of Societal and Cultural Leaders
For communicating our message to the Iraqis,
our challenge was twofold: We had to exhaust every means available
to ensure the Iraqis heard our messages, and (frankly the greater
challenge) we had to get them to believe our messages. We constantly
strove to earn the trust and confidence of the Iraqis in our area
by consistently being truthful with them and following through on
our word. Many if not most of the Iraqis we were trying to influence
with our IO themes did not have access to us, did not have an opportunity
to change their opinions about our intentions, and tended not to
believe anything a Westerner said to them. For our information to
resonate with the population, we realized we had to reach the most
trusted, most influential community members: the societal and cultural
leaders. We hoped to convince them to be our interlocutors with
the silent majority.
We identified the key leaders in our AO who
wielded the greatest influence. These included clerics (Sunni and
Shiite imams and Christian priests from Eastern Orthodox churches),
sheiks and tribal leaders, staff and faculty at the universities
(a group that has incredible influence over the young minds of college-age
students), local government officials whom we were mentoring, and
finally, select Arab media correspondents.
We began our leader engagement strategy by
contacting members of local governments at neighborhood, district,
and city council meetings. We sat side by side with elected local
council leaders and helped them develop their democratic council
systems. Eventually, we took a backseat and became mere observers.
My commanders and I used these occasions to cultivate relationships
with the leaders and to deliver our talking points (never missing
an opportunity to communicate our two brigade themes). We typically
met weekly or bi-weekly with prominent religious leaders, tribal
sheiks, and university staff and faculty to listen to concerns and
advice and to communicate the messages that supported our IO themes.
The meetings were excellent venues for our
target audiences to express whatever views they were willing to
share. Usually, we initiated a session with them by asking "What
are we doing that you think is going well in your neighborhoods?
What are we doing that is not going so well?" Not unexpectedly,
95 percent of their comments focused on what we were not doing so
well (from their point of view). But this dialog, however negative
the feedback might have been, gave them a forum to communicate to
us the rumors they had heard through the Iraqi grapevine. In turn,
this gave us a platform to counter rumors or accusations and, using
the detailed information we had collected, to invalidate untrue
or unsubstantiated rumors or allegations. After fostering relationships
with the leaders from our target audiences over a period of time,
we were able to refute anti-Coalition rumors and allegations with
some degree of success.
These venues also gave brigade leaders insights
to follow up on any allegations of unacceptable actions by any of
our units or Soldiers. In fact, when any group raised a credible
point that involved something I could affect, I tried to act on
it immediately. In our next meeting with the Iraqi leaders, I would
explain to them what I had discovered based on their allegations
and what I was doing about it. For example, a sheik alleged that
we were intentionally insulting Arab men when we conducted raids.
He specifically referred to our technique of placing a sandbag over
the head of a suspect once we apprehended him. I told him that doing
so was a procedure we had been trained to perform, probably to prevent
prisoners from knowing where they were being held captive. His response
was that everybody already knew where we took prisoners and that
it was humiliating for an Iraqi man to be taken captive in his house
and have "that bag" put on his head, especially in front
of his family. The sheik's point was that by following our standard
operating procedure to secure prisoners, we were creating conditions
that could potentially contribute to the insurgency.
Back at headquarters we talked this over. Why
do we put bags on their heads? Nobody had a good answer. What do
we lose if we don't use the bags? What do we gain if we don't? We
decided to discontinue the practice. Whether doing so had a measurable
effect or not is unknown, but the change played well with the target
audience because it was a clear example that we valued the people's
opinions and would correct a problem if we knew about it. This simple
act encouraged the people to share ideas with us on how we should
operate and allowed them to say, "See, I have influence with
the Americans." This was useful because it stimulated more
extensive and better future dialog.
Another benefit of these engagement sessions
was an increase in our understanding of the culture. We had not
undergone cultural training before deploying to Iraq, but we received
a significant amount of it through on-the-job training during these
sessions. In fact, many of the tactics, techniques, and procedures
we adopted that allowed us to strike a balance between conducting
operations and being culturally sensitive came from ideas presented
to us during meetings with leaders of our key target audiences.
Everybody thinks embedded media is a great
concept. I do. I had James Kitfield from the National Journal embedded
in my unit for 3 months during my tour in Iraq. That is an embed-somebody
who stays with the unit long enough to understand the context of
what is going on around them and to develop an informed opinion
before printing a story. Unfortunately, as Phase IV of the operation
in Iraq began, the definition of what an embed was for some reason
changed to mean hosting a reporter for 3 or 4 days or even just
1 day. That is risky business because a reporter cannot learn about
or understand the context of the issues Soldiers face and, consequently,
has a greater propensity to misinterpret events and draw inaccurate
conclusions. Realizing this, I made it a brigade policy that we
would not allow reporters to live with us in the brigade unless
they were going to come down for an extended period of time.
Reporters who wanted to visit us for a day
or two were welcome, but they had to go home every night because
I was not going to expose them to, or give them, the same kind of
access a true embed received if they did not want to invest the
time needed to develop a sophisticated understanding of the environment
the Soldiers faced, the decisions we were making, and the context
in which we were fighting. Therefore, my seventh IO observation
is that reporters must earn their access.
Unfortunately, it is also my experience that
some reporters come with a predetermined agenda and only want to
gather information to support some particular political or personal
slant for a story they are already developing. However, I learned
by experience who those reporters were and what to expect from them.
No matter what we do, we are not going to change some reporters'
or publications' mindsets. The best way to work around a biased
and unprofessional journalist is by being more professional than
they are and by developing a plan to deal with them.
Arab versus international media. Although the
international press is an integral component of our IO effort, they
were not our top media priority. While higher headquarters viewed
U.S. And international media as their main media targets, our priority
was more parochial: We regarded the Iraqi and Arab media as our
main targets. As a result, most of the time I spent on the media
was focused on the Arab press because it informed the population
in my area. What most people were viewing on their new satellite
TV dishes was al Arabiya and Al Jazeera, not CNN, the BBC, NBC,
or FOX. From my perspective, I was competing with the insurgents
for the opinion of the silent majority, the wavering mass of Iraqi
citizens who were undecided in who they supported and who constituted
the most important audience we needed to influence.
Weekly roundtables. The most effective technique
we developed to routinely engage the key members of the Arab press
was the bi-weekly, brigade-level news huddle. Since policy at that
time did not permit us to conduct press conferences, we held small
roundtables, something like the exclusive U.S. Department of Defense
(DOD) press roundtables conducted in Washington, D.C. We allowed
only the Arab press to come to these sessions; CNN, the BBC, and
other international media were excluded. The Arab media was our
target audience because it was our conduit of information back to
the Arab community.
Every 2 weeks I invited Arab media representatives
to my headquarters. In preparation, one of my PAOs drafted talking
points and a script. I began each meeting with scripted comments
emphasizing messages related to our two primary IO themes, then
opened the floor to questions.
To focus our efforts and to determine which
venues the Iraqis received their news from, we conducted surveys
and ascertained which newspapers were read and which TV programs
were watched in our battlespace. We then hired two Iraqis to be
brigade press agents. Their main jobs were to facilitate attendance
at our press roundtables and to promote the publication of our messages.
They would go out, visit with various newspapers, and invite reporters
to our press conferences. Typically, the press agents described
how we conducted our press conference, provided reporters with the
location and frequency of our meetings, and coordinated the reporters'
clearance for entry into our forward operating base. Finally, the
press agents would stress to the reporters that they were not only
allowed but encouraged to ask anything they wanted.
It was not unusual to have anywhere from 8
to 10 newspaper reporters attend these meetings, among them representatives
from Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, and one of the Lebanese satellite TV
stations. After the press huddle I usually did offline interviews
with the Arab satellite stations.
Engaging Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya. Al Jazeera
and Al Arabiya, for the most part, enjoy a justifiably bad reputation
in the West because of their biased reporting style. But the fact
is they report to the audience we need to influence, so why not
develop a rapport with them so that maybe we can get some of our
messages across to the Iraqi public?
When Al Jazeera reporters first came to one
of our press huddles, they were distant. However, after three or
four meetings they began warming up to us and later, they became
just as friendly as any of the other reporters attending. We can,
if we put enough effort into it, develop a good working relationship
with almost any reporter as long as we are truthful and honest.
They cannot help but respect us for that and, much of the time,
respect is rewarded with fairer and more balanced news accounts
because reporters know they can trust what we are saying. It is
a mistake not to allow Al Jazeera and other Arab media access simply
because we do not like much of what they report. We need to work
with them specifically if we want more accuracy and balance. We
cannot just censor them, deny them access, or fail to respect them
because, ultimately, they talk to Arab peoples in their own language
and are the most likely to be believed. Not to engage them or work
with them is to miss tactical and strategic opportunities.
Handbills. Another important tool in our efforts
to communicate IO themes to the Iraqi public was handbills. Generally,
we Westerners dismiss handbills as a trivial medium because we associate
them with pizza advertising, close-out sales, and other such activities.
In Iraq, hand-distributed material in the form of flyers and leaflets
is an effective way to distribute IO messages.
To take the initiative away from the insurgents,
we developed two different types of handbills: one to address situations
we faced routinely (figure 5), another for mission-specific operations
or incidents (figure 6). Standard handbills spread news about such
events as improvised explosive device (IED) incidents, house raids,
and road closings (usually to clear an IED). Because we wanted to
ensure that we had a way to take our IO message straight to the
local population as soon as an opportunity presented itself, every
mounted patrol carried standard flyers in their vehicles at all
times. Thus, when Soldiers encountered a situation, they could react
We also relied on handbills tailored to specific
incidents that had occurred or operations we were conducting. For
example, we might draft a handbill addressing an insurgent incident
that had killed or injured Iraqis citizens in a local neighborhood.
Being able to rapidly produce and disseminate a handbill that exposed
the callous and indiscriminate nature of insurgent or terrorist
activities while a local community was reeling from the attack was
powerful and effective.
When developing handbills, we followed two
important guidelines: Ensure that messages were accurately translated,
and ensure that the handbills were distributed in a timely manner.
Much careful, deliberate thought went into the scripting of our
messages. We made sure our best interpreters translated the material,
and we vetted each translation through multiple interpreters to
It is an unfortunate characteristic of war
that tragedy invites the greatest interest in political or social
messages. As a result, the best time to distribute a leaflet, as
exploitative as it seems, was after an IED or some other sensational
insurgent attack had resulted in injury or death. A population grieving
over lost family members was emotionally susceptible to messages
vilifying and condemning the insurgents. Consequently, we would
move rapidly to an incident site and start distributing preprinted
leaflets to discredit the insurgents for causing indiscriminant
collateral damage. We also requested help in finding the perpetrators
of the attack. Such leaflets brought home immediately the message
that the insurgents and terrorists were responsible for these events
and that the best way to get justice was to tell us or the Iraqi
security forces who the insurgents were and where they could be
found. This technique, which helped drive a wedge between the insurgents
and the locals, often resulted in actionable intelligence. Quick
distribution of leaflets helped influence our population before
the insurgents could spin the incident against us.
We also drafted handbills that informed the
Iraqis about local or national infrastructure progress (figure 7).
We highlighted successes, such as the increased production of electricity
in the country and improvements in the amount of oil produced and
exported. We specifically designed these leaflets to convince the
population that progress was occurring.
Measures of IO Effectiveness
As with all operations, gauging IO effectiveness
is important; however, the process of measuring IO success is not
a precise science. That noted, we did discover certain simple techniques
to identify indicators that we found useful for measuring effectiveness.
Iraqi PAOs. Iraqi PAOs were indispensable to
our success with the Iraqi and Arab press. They were instrumental
in soliciting Arab media correspondents to attend our bi-weekly
brigade news huddles and in gauging what was being published or
broadcast that directly affected our area of operations.
We hired two Iraqi interpreters and dedicated
them to 24-hour monitoring of Arab satellite news. That's all they
did: they watched satellite news television in our headquarters
and noted every story that was aired about operations in Iraq.
Through their efforts we were able to determine
that our information operations were having the intended effect
because of an increase in the number of accurate, positive stories
published or aired in local papers and on satellite TV.
Updates and analysis from this monitoring process
became a key part of the daily battle update brief. The PAO briefed
us on newspaper articles or Arab TV stories related to our operations.
For example, a story might have appeared on Al Jazeera about some
particular issue or event in the brigade AO that might have been
incorrectly reported. We would respond by developing an IO action
to counter the story. This type of monitoring told us about the
type of information being directed at the local population, which
in turn allowed us to take action to counter or exploit the information.
Lack of adverse publicity. A similar key indicator
that our IO efforts were succeeding was a lack of adverse publicity.
While we were in Baghdad we raided eight mosques, but received no
adverse publicity other than from a few disgruntled imams. To our
knowledge, these raids were not reported by either the Arab or the
international press. Nor did these raids prove to be problematic
in feedback from the various target audiences we were trying to
influence. We attributed this success to the meticulous IO planning
we did for every sensitive site we raided. Ultimately, we developed
a brigade SOP that detailed the IO activities we were required to
do before, during, and after such raids.
Increase in intelligence tips. Another indicator
of success was the increased number of intelligence tips we received.
We determined that there was a correlation between the number of
tips we received from unpaid walk-in informants and the local population's
growing belief that they should distance themselves from the insurgents
and align themselves with Coalition reform efforts. By comparing
week after week how often local citizens approached our Soldiers
and told them where IEDs were implanted or where they were being
made, we had a pretty good idea that our efforts to separate the
insurgents from the population were working.
The wave factor and graffiti. An informal but
important indicator was what we called the wave factor. If you drive
through a neighborhood and everyone is waving, that is good news.
If you drive through a neighborhood and only the children are waving,
that is a good but not great indicator. If you drive through a neighborhood
and no one is waving, then you have some serious image problems.
A similar informal indicator was the increase or decrease of anti-Coalition
Monitoring mosque sermons. A more sophisticated
indicator came from reports of what had been said at mosque sermons.
Monitoring imam rhetoric proved to be an important technique because
messages delivered during sermons indicated whether or not imams
were toning down their anti-Coalition rhetoric. If they were, we
could claim success for our program of religious leader engagements.
Feedback on what was said inside the mosque steered us to those
imams we specifically needed to engage. For example, I would be
briefed that a certain imam was still advocating violence against
Coalition forces or that he was simply communicating false information.
We would then tailor our IO efforts to engage that particular imam
or other local neighborhood leaders so that he might modify his
behavior and rhetoric.
The Way Ahead
In Iraq's COIN environment, information operations
are important tools for achieving success. I believe the program
we developed, with its focus on engendering tolerance for our presence
and willingness to cooperate (rather than winning hearts and minds),
and its basis in consistent, reliable actions supported by targeted
communications to specific audiences, paid dividends.
Repetition of message, accuracy of information,
and speed of delivery were key to executing our plan. Ultimately,
those of us tasked with counterinsurgency must always keep in mind
that we are really competing with the insurgents for influence with
the indigenous population. In Iraq, that means convincing the population
that they should tolerate our short-term presence so that economic,
political, social, and security reforms can take root and ultimately
give them a better country and a better life. To achieve this goal,
we must dominate the IO environment. To dominate the IO environment,
we need to ensure that information operations receive the same level
of emphasis and involvement that our commanders have traditionally
allocated to conventional maneuver operations. Until our army matures
in its development of doctrine and approach to training for insurgencies,
commanders at all levels will need to play a prominent role in developing,
implementing, and directing IO within their areas of operation.
One of the many strengths our army enjoys is
that it is an adaptive, learning organization. Significant changes
are already taking place as we begin to learn from the lessons of
fighting an insurgency. Our Combat training Centers are implementing
changes to their training models to better integrate IO into rotation
scenarios. Their challenge will be to give rotating forces an irregular
warfare experience that acknowledges and rewards good IO planning
and execution by our Soldiers. The addition of IO, PA, and CA officers,
PSYOP NCOs, and PAOs to maneuver brigades is encouraging, and the
offering of COIN electives at the Command and General Staff College
(CGSC) indicates real progress. However, there is still more to
be done before our Soldiers and our army can comfortably employ
IO as a key instrument for waging war against an irregular enemy.
Some of the following suggestions are already being considered and
will soon be implemented; others I hope will spark some debate as
to their merits:
-Do more than add a COIN elective to the CGSC
curriculum. Immediately require COIN instruction at all levels in
our institutional training base.
-Integrate cultural awareness training as a
standard component in our institutional training base curriculum.
-Increase the quality and quantity of media
training provided to Soldiers and leaders.
-Consider compensating culture experts commensurate
with their expertise. Why is it that we see fit to give pilots flight
pay but do not offer foreign area officers cultural pay? If we want
to build a bench of specialists in key languages such as Arabic,
Farsi, and Mandarin Chinese, we should consider a financial incentive
program to attract and retain people who possess these critical
-Reassess policies and regulations that inhibit
our tactical units' ability to compete in an IO environment. The
global communications network facilitates the near-instantaneous
transmission of information to local and international audiences,
and it is inexpensive and easy to access. Our Soldiers must be permitted
to beat the insurgents to the IO punch.
In closing, the model of information operations
I have advocated here is simply one way to conduct IO at brigade
level and below. This model is not intended to be the only way.
The unique aspects of each operational environment, our national
goals in wartime, the culture of the indigenous population, and
many other factors will ultimately dictate each commander's concept
of information operations. The important thing is to develop a plan
and to execute it aggressively. Failing to do so will give the insurgent
a perhaps insurmountable advantage.
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