In order to achieve layered effects on the battlefield, special operations forces on the ground are typically comprised of more than just door-kicking, you’ve-got-a-piece-of-snakemeat-in-your-beard-type guys. Most SF detachments – while dreaming of breathtaking solo pursuits across the rooftops of Baghdad – are usually plused up with myriad attachments based on their mission, including Civil Affairs, Military Working Dogs, EOD, mechanics, cooks, etc. I’ve worked with a few of them in various capacities, and I’m going to cover each one in-depth based upon firsthand experience.

MISO/Psyops

In 2010, The U.S. Army, suffering another bout of political correctness, changed Psyops’ name to MISO: from ‘Psychological Operations’ to ‘Military Information Support Operations’, which completely pissed off the recruiters trying to fill their quota. From Jedi mind-tricks to soupy side-dish in one field-grade swoop.

MISO’s job is, ostensibly, to win the hearts and minds of both friend and foe, and to be the mission’s PR rep on the battlefield. And they’re pretty damn good at it. While it may not be as stupendously badass as firing a Carl-G off the back of a moving Hilux, MISO operators are nimble, competent, and useful contributors on the battlefield – and they have my sincere admiration and respect for the job that they do.

At some point in the past, someone with marketing smarts (probably Benjamin Franklin or Don Draper) decided that we could attempt to influence the minds of the enemy without actually wasting all these bullets on them. So we started dropping leaflets describing all the opportunities for a good life that await on the other side of the line, if one were to only lay down arms… and we outlined, in gruesome detail, all the ways you were going to wither and die if you refused.

‘Psywar’ got really popular with the Allies in WWII, and while it might have worked to devious effect against ze Germans, the Japanese held such faith in their emperor that we had to remind them of their peace-loving nature through the use of nuclear bombs. The machinations involving propaganda both overt and covert were so Machiavellian that only Churchill himself could keep it all straight.

Propaganda leaflets that talk and listen: The future of psychological operations?

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WWII spin doctors came up with three types of leaflet campaigns, White, Grey, and Black. The White leaflets had an openly acknowledged source; instructions on how supremely badass the Allies were and if you could just hold out for a few more weeks, Union Jack and his Star Spangled buddy would be marched down Main Street by Winston and Franklin themselves. Grey leaflets would have an obvious but unstated originator – typically messages about the impending fall of the Third Reich. Black leaflets were seeded to demoralize; usually containing false information and a false source.

In the Korean War, psychological operations through leaflets and radio broadcasts were used to great effect, likely helping North Korean troops decide that settling down and living in the South might not be so bad, after all, and hey, aren’t I glad I missed out on that whole gulag thing? The Brits used an intensive leaflet campaign during the Malayan Communist Insurgency, and then it was America’s turn in the Vietnam War, and nigh unto modern history.

The most common historic applications of MISO today are audio and printed products, for example a loudspeaker message or a handbill. With the advent of television and the internet, further opportunities to apply MISO have developed, your eHarmony profile notwithstanding. Psyops is on the case.

Operation Clean Sweep happens even in the desert. Image Credit: Library of Congress

In Afghanistan, MISO engages the enemy daily: they battle the Taliban’s own information operations, they battle rumor and heresy, and they even battle ignorance and sickness.

I recently had the opportunity to work with a MISO unit in a Village Stability Operation, or VSO, wherein we were conducting Foreign Internal Defense in support of local Afghan Police. On this level, the MISO unit was responsible for running a hyper-local radio station, attending face-to-face meetings with locals & elders, and maintained a call-in tip line  – primarily used by bored Taliban to call in and leave comically violent messages involving your sister and a machete.

In an environment such as a VSO, a common day’s work would begin with identifying the tasks that would benefit from the application of MISO (i.e. “this will look great on my sitrep!”) Most commonly, the end-state would be a radio message or a printed product, or perhaps an actual beard-to-beard meeting. A MISO message consists of the application of carefully planned and chosen arguments meant to persuade an individual or group to think, act, or behave in a desired manner. One day you might provide instructions on how to boil water, the next announce a guns-for-goats turn-in.

HIMARS have a tendency to just totally ruin Taliban picnics, even indoor ones. Image Credit: Library of Congress

MISO goes beyond the spreading of information and ideas to also include news, groovy-but-religiously-acceptable music, socially-specific material such as reading of the Quran, health and hygiene related messages, and learning materials. MISO seeks to understand and target its audience, and to do so without spreading lies or misinformation. Where propaganda often is considered the voice of some enigmatic entity attempting to control you, the success of MISO and those who perform it is heavily reliant upon a strong knowledge of local culture and customs. MISO practitioners spend much of their time building relationships with locals to earn their cooperation, rather than using coercion to gain it. By improving the lives of locals through simple messages such as ‘boil your water’ MISO can give credibility to the U.S. Military’s operations because overall conditions improve.

The History of Psychological Operations: Before the Beginning

Read Next: The History of Psychological Operations: Before the Beginning

One big way that MISO helped our team in our VSO was reacting to events in our area. For example, more often than not, IEDs aren’t stepped on by infidel invaders – they’re stepped on by innocents going about their daily lives. Whenever this happened, our MISO unit immediately got on the radio, and talked about where the IED was, the condition of the victim, and – because we’re Americans, and this is the moral standard to which we operate – what our medics have done to save this person’s life. The resulting ‘layered effect’ by beating the enemy to the punch was that our story got out to the populace first, the cowardice represented by the Taliban and their use of IEDs was evident, and we connected it to our local police and mine reduction group as a recruitment opportunity: “Join the Afghan Local Police and Clean up Your Town!” and so on. Mute Taliban embarrassment for days.

These messages do work, and we did see initiative on the part of locals to increase their security against the foreign terrorists. Thanks in part to MISO and their hardworking operators, we were able to accomplish our mission in Afghanistan with positive and hopefully lasting results.

Note: Thanks for reading my first of what I hope to be many interesting articles here on SOFREP – and thanks to Jack & Brandon for having me on. I’m a long-tabber and have traveled to over 40 countries, getting to know friends and foe alike: I humbly request your feedback, corrections, or suggestions on things you’d like to see covered. Thanks again

-c