Afghanistan · Crisis Management · inform and influence activities · Information operations · Military Information Support Operations · Propaganda · social media

We are Losing the Information War to the Taliban or Twitter as a Weapon.

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Social Media in Warfare.

On September 13th, 2011, the Taliban and/or the Pakistani-based Haqqani attacked the US embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan for almost 20 hours. Eventually the last insurgents were killed by the numerically and technologically superior forces of ISAF.  21 people were killed, including at least five policemen and four children.

At the same time there was an information war between @ISAFmedia and @ABalkhi on Twitter.   ISAF lost.

Why?  Even though the Taliban was loose and easy (and obviously overinflated), they pushed their information quickly and efficiently.  ISAF, on the other hand, was hampered by fact-checking and approval processes that made them appear “flat-footed and slow“.

There are a number of sayings in the information warfare business that basically say ‘the first to publish wins’.  The unofficial motto of US Military Information Support Operations (used to be PSYOP) might be “The truth shall set you free”.

Having been in combat zones all over the world there is one factor that always seems to be true:  ‘initial reports are always wrong’.  Any leader in a combat zone will receive an initial call such as ‘we are under attack’.  This is the truth.  But by whom?  Is it an enemy force?  Insurgents?  Friendly fire? All the leader can honestly report, and should, is that ‘I have elements under attack.  We are determining by whom at this time’.  Then, once we determine by whom, we must determine why.  Is it to seek decisive engagement, to defeat us? Is it to get us to chase them, perhaps leading us away from something else?  Is it a harassing attack?  Is it a feint?  Is it designed to get us to orient in one direction, thus allowing friendly forces to get flanked or even enveloped?  Is it the main force?  Could it be a lead element or scouts/recon?  Is it designed to get us to expose our alignment, strengths, weaknesses?  It should be the commander’s call, the person in charge, it is his (or her) responsibility to state clearly and concisely ‘this is what I know’.  Not guessing, but to keep a cool head during the “fog of war”. Push out the information, keep others informed, get the truth out there more quickly than the adversary.  The Information Operations (IO) guy should be the commander’s right hand man, in this new era, working closely with the Public Affairs (PA) experts.  The 2, the intelligence guru, should be tracking enemy forces, the 3, the operations officer, should be the person generating the guidance for the deployment and use of forces, the 4 should be supporting, requesting and positioning logistics, but the IO guy has to work with the Public Affairs (PA) personnel and quickly generate messages which tell the truth (as they know it) and counter any propaganda from the other side.

Both sides have been engaged in this information war for over ten years, the US has programs dedicating hundreds of millions of dollars to “Information Operations“, focusing on mainly the long term, to establishing reputable news sources.  In the short term, however, we suck.