With public criticism of the contract bouncing among bloggers, Mattis told the committee that CENTCOM lawyers had determined the activities were “strictly within the guidelines of the law” and that “in today’s changing world, these are now traditional military activities. They’re no longer something that can only be handled by Voice of America or someone like that.”
Against these new, high-level information efforts, it’s worth looking back at a more local approach introduced almost two years ago by the Center for Army Lessons Learned in its publication, “Small-Unit Ops in Afghanistan Handbook.” One chapter quotes a former commander in Afghanistan as saying, “In this environment, it is difficult to pass down a coherent IO [information operations] plan from the strategic to the tactical level. Each geographic location is unique.”
It advises Army small-unit leaders to assess their own operations area and “consider how best to influence the local population.” Army information operation themes and prepared messages, it warns, “can be too complex for locals in certain situations.” The handbook reminds that outside the few major cities, the illiteracy rate in Afghan villages runs 95 percent. “The average Afghan thinks in terms of his hierarchy — the family compound clan and village. Their comprehension of geo-political concepts, regional government and national government is nonexistent,” according to the Army handbook.
The information message is to be kept “extremely simple,” and there is a reminder that “Afghans understand money. Conveying the message that money will come to help their villages when the violence stops will typically gain cooperation from Afghans.” But, the handbook cautions, “Do not promise amounts of money or specific projects.”
It suggests speaking spontaneously with local Afghans and doing it carefully based on the situation.
Nonetheless, small-unit leaders are encouraged to use talking points such as: “We want to help you build a strong economy. We have a medical civic action program scheduled to help the children and women of this area. We are committed to partnering with Afghan security forces to provide a safe and secure environment. We will stay here as long as it takes.”
The handbook obviously was written long before the 2014 date was set for the departure of U.S. combat troops.