“...[A]rguably, the most important military component in the War on Terror is not the fighting we do ourselves, but how well we enable and empower our partners to defend and govern their own countries.”
-SECDEF Robert Gates, 2007 AUSA Conference-
For over ten years the US Military has been struggling to overcome the asymmetric nature of the information fight. With all of its technology, educated officers, and manpower the US has yet to defeat, save a few isolated and fleeting examples, a seemingly less equipped extremist enemy; why? To effectively answer this question we need to first look at the three areas in which I feel the US continues to fail; our ‘tactical marketing’ style, pushing products or programs obviously produced by Western minds, and our inability to leverage the voice of moderate Islam and its outspoken personalities. After a brief examination of these three areas I will argue that each one could be overcome by effectively leveraging the ‘grassroots’ nature of a Security Force Advisor Team (SFAT).
Using TTPs garnered from a Western published college marketing textbook will only be effective, in the long term, when used on Westernized societies. We Westerners have been, and are being, classically conditioned to respond to certain types of advertising and marketing. The strategies used to market a popular clothing brand to a particular demographic can only be effective if that demographic has already been conditioned to believe in the necessity of the product and the potential 2nd and 3rd order effects of buying the brand; essentially its value to the consumer. When applying the same strategies in the tactical realm, on third world peoples, we are asking them to buy into a product that they have had no conditioning to want, need, or use. In the West we need only to influence attitudes; in the third world we must first condition behavior.
Handbills, posters, billboards, radio shows, etc… All of these things are common Inform and Influence Activities (I2A) methods to reach a third world populace. Chief among the many problems I see with relaying on these methods are the issues of rampant illiteracy, lack of reliable power, and a general distrust of ‘Government’ in many third world areas. So, one could craft the most brilliant handbill ever conceived; its message/art could be so impeccable that almost any Westerner reading it would instantaneously buy into its message, but when distributed to the Pashtu’s in the back country of Southern Afghanistan they don’t bite; why? The answer is simply that the message wasn’t for them, it was for us. Words on a pamphlet only work if the recipient can read it; most Afghans cannot read. Flashy images or faceless radio broadcast only work if the viewer/listener have educated context for the content they are receiving; most Afghans don’t. These methods are obviously Western. An Afghan TTP would be to perpetuate an idea using his voice; face to face with his listeners. Ergo almost all rural learning received in Afghanistan is done in a mosque by the trusted cleric or village elder. These men have been there long before us, and will continue to be long after. This takes me to my third point; leveraging the local voice.
I’m a 210 pound, 6’2” blond haired American military officer; nothing about me blends into Afghanistan. I could write and record and stand at pulpits all over the Islamic world attempting to educate the peoples on assistance programs, why they should adhere to a more moderate form of Islam, and why they should renounce violence. I could go from door to door even, with very little success I’m sure. I, and I represent America or the West in this context, have no credibility in the Islamic world. I’ve been seen as an agitator and persecutor for too long. In order for me to grab hold of the ears of those I’m trying to persuade, my message must come from another mouth; the mouth of a respected and trusted statesman, athlete, cleric, or elder. A thousand handbills in Shah Joy District Afghanistan would not nearly be as effective for convincing the people to trust and have faith in the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) as the District Police Chief or Governor getting out into the villages and having regular shuras with the village elders. A hundred crank radios pumping pro-GIRoA messages into the homes of a village would be significantly more expensive, and less effective, then the same message being spouted by the local Imam.
“An in-depth understanding of the operational environment including the available friendly HN forces, the opposing threats, and especially the human geography aspects, is critical to planning and conducting effective SFA operations. Knowing all of the actors influencing the environment and their motivations will help planners define the goals and methods for developing HN security forces. It is equally important to understand the regional players and transnational actors.”
-JCISFA Commander’s Handbook for Security Force Assistance-
The hallmark of a SFATs effectiveness is its 24/7 attachment to, at the lowest level, either an ANA Kandak or an AUP district police station. The members of an SFAT are tasked to embed with their counterpart. This means living, eating, sleeping, and patrolling with them. The foundation of a successful SFAT is its ability to build rapport with those they advise. Having a relationship of confidence and understanding, coupled with a 24/7 audience amid locally trusted actors allows the members of the SFAT to plant GIRoA’s messages into the minds of said local actors. SFATs can help mitigate, or even obliterate, the negative effects of the methods mentioned earlier.
It is very difficult for a Western educated officer/NCO to subconsciously step outside their conditioned upbringing in order to step into the mind of a third world audience; especially if they’ve never spent any ‘real’ time with said third world people. By ‘real’ I mean boots off, no battle rattle, laughing, joking, working with, and depending on type experiences. SFAT members do this on a daily basis, and should be treated as local cultural SMEs. A BDE IO Coordinator (IOCOORD) could leverage the experiences of his/her internal SFATs; using their opinions and observations to build audio/visual product, create talking points/themes, and when scheduling KLEs. The SFAT members should be brief ahead of deployment to pay special attention to not only what motivates their counterpart’s actions, but also the actions of the soldiers/policemen working under them. Using this new found metric, the IOCOORD would be able to utilize his/her organic IO assets to the fullest extent. Instead of producing radio messages for an audience without power or radio reception capability, he/she could leverage the guerilla nature of an embedded SFAT to trickle ideas and information into the minds of district and above level leaders; the local leaders, teachers, and decision makers.