Small Wars Journal

Integration of Combat Camera and Public Information to Maximize the Affect within the Information Environment

Thu, 12/01/2011 - 7:25am

Information Operations (IO) and Combat Camera (COMCAM) have long co-existed and supported one another’s efforts; however, often times the affect of a combined multi-media message is overlooked, particularly at the tactical level.  Within the Task Force Leatherneck area of operations of Helmand Province, Afghanistan, the value of integrated combat camera imagery synchronized with public information and coordinated by IO can yield immediately noticeable affects within the information environment.  The impact of non-kinetic effects to influence the information environment and create an atmosphere more conducive to the conduct of counterinsurgency (COIN) operations can be achieved through the employment of combined non-kinetic fires, specifically through the combination of visual imagery with verbal information.

This article highlights three cases in which the ingenuity of United States Marine Corps tactical units, combined with IO coordination and the employment of COMCAM assets, resulted in an integrated affect on the information environment, influencing the local population in three separate districts across southern Afghanistan.  The solutions created and successfully employed by the Marine units are described below and serve as a model for units operating within the COIN environment of the Afghanistan theater, as well as those conducting military operations-other-than-war outside Afghanistan.

Although both IO and COMCAM can effectively operate independently of one another, successful influence operations within COIN depend on collecting and integrating essential information while denying it to the adversary and other target audiences.  IO encompass planning, coordination, and synchronization of the employment of current capabilities to deliberately affect or defend the information environment to achieve the commander’s objectives.  As such, COMCAM is a supporting capability of IO.  Although COMCAM has multiple purposes in support of the battle space owner, COMCAM operates within and has an impact on the information environment.[1]

Not only can COMCAM products yield visual imagery and intelligence upon which commanders and staffs at all levels use to make informed operational decisions, but the integration of COMCAM capabilities with IO can maximize the desired effect and, in the cases described in this article, can combine to have greater influence on a larger audience than either capability could produce alone.  Through the integration of visual information with verbal information, the strength of the message can be increased.  As such, the message communicated during the event will resonate across a broader spectrum of the target audience.  Since visual information is the use of one or more of the various visual media with or without sound, and can include still photography, motion picture photography, video or audio recording, graphic arts, visual aids, models, display, visual presentation services, and the support processes,[2] the logical course of action is to integrate visual information, wherever possible, with IO.

In late-September 2011, an internet café was opened in a village of Marjeh district in Helmand Province.  The event was well attended by elders and members of the local community.  At the conclusion of the opening ceremony, Marines set up what they coined as the “Traveling Theater” in order to show the audience of local Afghans a video that would be used to inform the population about the reason for Coalition Forces presence within the country.  The command recognized the importance of educating the local population after a study was conducted by think tank International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) in which 1000 Afghan men in southern Afghanistan provinces of Kandahar and Helmand revealed 92% were unaware that terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001.  ICOS President Norine MacDonald explained, “The lack of awareness of why we are there contributes to the high levels of negativity toward the NATO military operations and made the job of the Taliban easier.  We need to explain to the Afghan people why we are here, and both convince them and show them that their future is better with us than the Taliban.”[3]

While not a program of record, the Traveling Theater has the ability to leverage multi-media products to maximize desired effects on a larger target audience.  The Traveling Theater was designed to be utilized as a platform to communicate with the local population whenever the opportunity presented itself, as well as during planned events such as Key Leader Engagements. 

The theater consists of a stand-alone computer, one-eye projector, speaker system, extension cord, power strip, hammer and nails, power converter (if required), and a white bed sheet for a back drop for viewing (SEE ACCOMPANYING PHOTOS).

The Traveling Theater package is intended to be powered through a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) tactical vehicle, and the necessary extension can be made available to allow for a stand-off distance from the vehicle.  The theater can be set-up anywhere you can hang the backdrop and as long as lighting allows the projector to work appropriately. 

Key Leader Engagements (KLEs) – which at the tactical level use face-to-face engagement tailored to local conditions[4] – can provide another platform during which verbal and visual information can be integrated to maximize the desired affect.  In order to maximize employment during KLEs, the Traveling Theater was installed in and moved with the battalion commanding officer’s vehicle into the battle space.  By employing this Traveling Theater during KLEs, the combined impact of visual information with verbal information produced a lasting affect on the target audience.  Of note, the battalion reported that a few days later, when this video was shown again to a different audience of local Afghans within the Central Helmand River Valley district of Marjeh, a number of other local men stated they had heard of this video from men in a neighboring village and were interested in seeing it, as well.[5]  This “reverberation” of the message demonstrates its resonance, indicating the message communicated days earlier was received by the target audience and then communicated to secondary and tertiary audiences.[6]

Such feedback is indicative of the speed in which communication by word-of-mouth travels in Afghanistan, particularly amongst the rural villages, and highlights the value of multi-media to communicate a message during engagements.  The use of visual as well as verbal information ensures the incorporation of both sight and sound to communicate a message.  The combination of the two senses increases the likelihood the message will resonate amongst the target audience.[7]

Similarly, the integration of COMCAM and IO occurred in Kashrud District of Nimruz Province, after a 30 June insurgent-lade improvised explosive device killed 20 Afghan civilians and injured a number of others.[8]  Responders were comprised of Coalition Forces and Afghan National Army (ANA) Soldiers.  Quick thinking COMCAM Marines enabled the documentation of events as they unfolded.  Images acquired by the COMCAM Marines were later shown during engagements with local Afghan residents to demonstrate the ability of Afghan Army medics to help the people of Afghanistan.  Furthermore, sound bites were collected by the same COMCAM Marines from the Afghan patients after being treated by the ANA medics.  These sound bites were developed into coordinated radio messages by the IO officer to promote the capability of the ANA and, in-their-own words, enabled local nationals to express their thanks and offer praise for their Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) via a public radio broadcast.  In this case, the synchronized efforts of IO and COMCAM yielded multiple integrated products to exploit the tactical situation.

Separately, the integration of visual information to positively alter the operating environment was demonstrated in the Helmand district of Nawa-y Barakzai in mid-2011.  Coalition Forces leveraged imagery acquired by COMCAM Marines in order to promote progress and development within the district.  During shuras conducted with the local population, the Marines used a stand-alone laptop to display a slide-show of COMCAM photographs depicting local government officials, local ANSF members, and members of the local population.[9]  The slide show was introduced by a local government official or elder in order to minimize Coalition Forces signature on the product and event.  The affect on the information environment was immediately noticeable.  The local villagers expressed sentiments of joy at seeing themselves and people they knew in the slide show.  With the slide show depicting images of projects in various stages of completion before finally revealing images of the completed projects, the audience was reminded of the level of progress made within their district and depicted the positive development their government has been able to bring to the local area of Nawa.

While at the tactical level, time does not always allow for robust multi-media integration to communicate a single message, the employment of the Traveling Theater allows for a mobile tactical communication system to be employed throughout the local battle space owner’s area of operations and provides the capability to communicate information via multiple forms of media.  Within the shape-clear-hold-build-transition model of COIN, the Traveling Theater can be employed during all phases to enable full-spectrum COIN operations.  The options to employ this Traveling Theater are boundless and are only limited by the product(s) available to disseminate, as well as the ability to integrate IO and COMCAM to create a coordinated affect.

As the US Marines move towards transition with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and transfer of lead security authority with ANSF,[10] the necessity for an integrated message will certainly increase.  In the absence of the message communicated by the physical presence of US Marines in the local area, the development of messages that will resonate amongst the local Afghan population is vital to maintaining the level of success and influence built, thus far.  To this end, it is incumbent upon battle space owners to take advantage of the technology, public information and Military Occupational Specialties readily available to create and disseminate a coordinated multi-media message, ultimately maximizing the effect that results from the integration of verbal and visual information. 

[1] Joint Publication 3-13, Information Operations, 13 February 2006

[2] Joint Publication 1-01, Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, 8 November 2010 (as amended through 15 September 2011)

[3] Paul Tait, “Few Afghans Know Reason For War, New Study Shows,” 19 November 2010,

[4] Commander’s Handbook for Strategic Communication and Communication Strategy Version 3.0, US Joint Forces Command Joint Warfighting Center, 24 June 2010

[5] Local Afghan feedback collected by Marines operating in the area indicated a consistently positive response after seeing the video explaining why Coalition Forces were and continue to be in Afghanistan.  Responses from local Afghan villagers can be summarized in the following statement, “Thank you.  This video really cleared up questions about why you Marines are here and what you’re doing.  Now we understand.  Thank You.”  Some local elders appeared overwhelmed with emotion and were observed in tears after the showing of the video stating, “This video reminded us of an Afghanistan from a long, long time ago, before the last 30 year of war.  It has been so long that we forgot how beautiful Afghanistan can be.

[6] Deirdre Collings and Rafal Rohozinski, Center for Strategic Leadership, U.S. Army War College and The Advanced Network Research Group, University of Cambridge, “Shifting Fire: Information Effects in Counterinsurgency & Stability Operations.”

[7] Edward G. Wertheim, Ph.D., “The Importance of Effective Communication,” Northeastern University, College of Business Administration.

[8] AFP, “20 civilians killed in Afghan mine blast,” 30 June 2011,

[9] This slide show could also be employed by the Traveling Theater to a larger audience.

[10] Thomas Harding, “Helmand killing fields to be handed back to Britain,” 6 November 2011,


About the Author(s)

Daniel S. Avondoglio is a Lieutenant Commander with the United States Navy currently serving with a US Marine Corps Task Force in Afghanistan.  He has served is various assignments in support of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations in multiple theaters.


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