This image was on propaganda leaflets the United States dropped over Raqqa, Syria, in March 2015. (Image released by U.S. Central Command)

The image is stark and bloody, like something out of a graphic novel. It depicts a monstrous-looking member of the Islamic State militant group urging a frightened young man to step forward, as another militant shoves a man head-first through a meat grinder. A sign overhead says “Daesh Recruiting Office,” making the case that those who join the militants are being fed into a machine in which they cannot survive.

The graphic was on 60,000 leaflets dropped southwest of Raqqa, Syria, the Islamic State’s de facto capital, on March 16, U.S. military officials with U.S. Central Command said Thursday. The military used a PDU-5B leaflet cannister dropped from an F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet, Centcom officials said. U.S. officials have called that the cannister a “leaflet bomb” in the past, but steered clear of that Thursday, perhaps due to the sensitivity of the operation.

[Checkpoint: Propaganda war: U.S. military social media accounts hacked by Islamic State sympathizers]

The leaflet usage, first reported by USA Today, adds a new element to the Pentagon’s fight to curb militant influence in Iraq and Syria, U.S. military officials told The Washington Post. The Iraqi government dropped leaflets over Mosul, Iraq, earlier this month promising the city would soon be liberated from the militants, but this marks the first time that the U.S. military has acknowledged doing so against the Islamic State.

Leaflet usage by the U.S. military is far from new, however. It dates back generations, and has been done in recent years over Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Here’s one example in Iraq in 2008:


Soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 350th Tactical Psychological Operations, 10th Mountain Division, drop leaflets over a village near Hawijah in Kirkuk province, Iraq, on March 6, 2008. (Defense Department photo)

The PDU-5 — the PDU is short for Payload Delivery Unit or Pamphlet Dispenser Unit, depending on the military image — leaflet dispenser also has been used before, too. After the shell is dropped from the wing of an aircraft, it leaves a long stream of leaflets to flutter to the ground. Note these previous photos released by the Navy:


A Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet drops a Payload Delivery Unit Five (PDU-5 cannister filled with leaflets over the Pacific Ocean during a training exercise in 2005. Photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Elisabeth Ann Saccotelli/ U.S. Navy)

A Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet drops a Payload Delivery Unit Five (PDU-5 cannister filled with leaflets over the Pacific Ocean during a training exercise in 2005. Photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Elisabeth Ann Saccotelli/ U.S. Navy)

Each PDU-5 is filled with “pucks” of leaflets, with rolls of the messages stacked next to each other inside. This Navy photo released in 2012 helps explain:


Aviation Ordnanceman 2nd Class Victor Aquino, aboard the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier, lays down a “puck” of leaflets to be used in a PDU-5 leaflet cannister. (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Devin Wray/ U.S. Navy)