December 8, 2001 - London Daily Telegram: Peace Corps Veterans wage psychological warfare in Afghanistan

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Read the story from the London Daily Telegraph on Peace Corps Veterans who waged psychological warfare in Afghanistan at:

Hippy who waged war with music and posters Toby Harnden meets America's experts in psychological warfare

Hippy who waged war with music and posters Toby Harnden meets America's experts in psychological warfare

Dec 8, 2001 - Daily Telegraph London Author(s): Toby Hardnen

AN ECLECTIC group of American soldiers, anthropologists and Peace Corps veterans have allowed themselves a few moments of quiet satisfaction about their part in the downfall of the Taliban in Afghanistan. They used posters, propaganda and, best of all, music.

The "psyops" specialists had gathered in a windowless conference room in the heart of Fort Bragg, a huge army base in North Carolina that is home to the American special forces.

But these people do not kick down doors or cut throats. They are more George Orwell than Hollywood macho John Wayne.

The 4th Psychological Operations Group used a variety of approaches but the Afghan loathing of foreigners played a central role in their campaign.

Osama bin Laden, the Saudi head of the al-Qa'eda terrorist network based in Afghanistan, was portrayed as the alien oppressor while the American message was: "We are not here to stay. We are here to assist Afghans."

One American leaflet showed bin Laden playing chess, a popular pastime in Afghanistan before it was banned by the Taliban, with the pawns depicted as Mullah Omar and his fellow Taliban.

"Expel the foreign rulers and live in peace" read the accompanying slogan.

Using 18 million leaflets dropped from American planes and more than 800 hours of radio broadcasts from EC130 "Commando Solo" aircraft, the psyops team sought to win hearts and minds of the Afghans with their most powerful weapon: music.

"I was sort of a hippy in the 1960s," said Dr Champagne, now balding and in his early fifties. "I taught in a high school in Afghanistan 30 years ago when I was in the Peace Corps and it changed my life."

Music, which was banned by the Taliban, gave hope to the Afghans, said Dr Champagne.

"We tended to go for more upbeat music intentionally because there's been 20 years of misery in that country."

It was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 that persuaded him to sign up with the United States army.

His two fellow analysts, who asked not to be identified for security reasons, are an Afghan who once taught at Kabul University and a 29-year-old sergeant whose parents, both civil servants, fled the country when he was 12.

Today, the psyops analysts spend much of their time reading academic journals or attending conferences relating to their specialist regions. They study poetry and are experts in ancient proverbs.

The 1,200 soldiers who work alongside the 35 civilians in the unit also tend to be something of a breed apart.

They are usually all in the top 10 per cent of the IQ range and are more likely to ask why than snap to attention when given an order.

Col Jim Treadwell, commanding officer of 4th Psyops, insisted that propaganda has nothing to do with lies.

"The truth is the best propaganda," he said. "If you ever get caught in a lie, you lose all your credibility. But that doesn't mean that we have to tell the whole truth."

Beyond the truth was left to the "deception planners" - the Central Intelligence Agency - he said.

"Even people who are into deception don't do disinformation," interjected Robert Jenkins, his civilian deputy.

"They try to create keys that are going to be interpreted in a particular way. It's not saying something that is necessarily false."

The biggest fear of the psyops planner, Dr Jenks said, was the kind of "ghastly cross-cultural blunders".

One of these was in Somalia when an United States army psyops leaflet promoting UN aid relief used words for "United Nations" that could be read as "World Slavery".

But Dr Champagne said that even in this case the message got across.

When President Kennedy had said: "Ich bin ein Berliner," Dr Champagne said that the use of the definite article meant the literal translation of the president's message was "I am a jelly doughnut."

But the Germans had understood what Kennedy meant nevertheless.

As the campaign in Afghanistan reaches a successful conclusion, copies of a greetings card depicting a plate of dates to mark "eid", the end of Ramadan, were rolling off the psyops printing presses.

"It basically says, `Have a nice eid' just like Happy Christmas. We want them to know that we respect their religion and that we care about them as people.

"They probably haven't had too many happy greetings during the last few years."

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