As U.S. troops prepare to depart from Syria, reports begin to emerge that describe how the military managed to drive back ISIS and reduce it to a small shadow of its power. Aside from the importance of air power and the involvement of Special Operations Forces (SOF) in support of Iraqi, Kurdish, and Syrian rebel forces, Psychological Operations (PSYOP) formed a considerable part of the American strategy.
According to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by The Drive, the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) used 25 audio messages to demoralise ISIS fighters and encourage them to defect or retreat. Local languages and dialects were used.
The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) didn’t disclose the methods of broadcasting. It could have been transmitted by EC-130J Commando Solo, dropped in the form of leaflets by other aircraft, broadcast by speakers mounted on Humvees, or by other, more covert, methods.
Some of the messages tried to sow division between local and foreign ISIS fighters:
“I don’t know whether to laugh at you or pity you, Brother. You joined Da’esh to fight and be part of something. But look! The foreign fighters get paid more than you; they get better food, better places to live, and the spoils of war. What do you get? Honestly, my friend, you have been cheated! Da’esh would be nothing without you, and look, you are barely treated better than they would treat a nonbeliever, and enemy prisoner. Is this what you signed up for?”
Others tried to spread tactical confusion among the different ISIS units:
“Fall back! They are everywhere! (Pause w/ static) Why is no one answering me? You need to move back! We cannot hold our position if you do not fall back you will be overrun! (Pause w/ static) If you can hear me fall back, I cannot hear you. You must fall back now or you will be killed! Is there anyone there? (Static that fades out).”
And yet others contained constant crying noises.
PSYOP fall under the umbrella of Information Operations (IO) and can happen in the tactical, operational, or strategic level. Further, PSYOP missions can be categorised as White, Grey, or Black depending on the U.S. footprint. Let’s break down the three colour categories in hypothetical examples:
First, an American patrol somewhere in Afghanistan stops at a village to rest and gain information. As Afghan villagers flock to the patrol, the soldiers hand-out leaflets that support the Afghan Government and condemn the Taliban. This would be labelled as White.
Second, the U.S. Government wishes to improve its standing in a country of interest (for instance, Iran or Turkey), PSYOP personnel would work with the intelligence agencies, the CIA, most usually, to contract locals to produce a movie or television show that portrays America in a favourable manner. This would be labelled as Grey.
Third, Iran is amid an election campaign. An Iranian non-government organisation (NGO) posts several messages on social media. The posts attack the Iranian Government over its policies that have marginalised the country from the international community and have brought great suffering to the Iranian people. The NGO, however, is a creation of American intelligence agencies. And yet it’s untraceable back to the U.S. Government. This would be labelled as Black.
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