What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

"The foreign warriors are killing our Muslims"

Did I just argue for an indirect approach to information operations the other day? Well, I didn't mean chaotic, inconsiderate or incomprehensible is good. I've been reading John D. McHugh's reportage from Rabat, eastern Afghanistan, and this is what I've come across there:
""Captain McChrystal!" called First Sergeant Collins from another room. "Sir, ACM [insurgent] pamphlets." He had in his hand a little piece of paper about the same size as a dollar bill. Printed in colour on both sides with a message written in Pashto and Dari, it looked very professional for insurgent propaganda. The message read: "The foreign warriors are killing our Muslims," according to the interpreters. Further investigation turned up more leaflets.
In the courtyard soldiers were gathering the small handbills. Collins told me: "It's just something else to deal with. You come here the day after you open a school and find propaganda against you." But he seemed resigned rather than annoyed by the events.
Outside, the children had been edging closer to the soldiers. One of them had a flier in his pocket, and a soldier asked to see it. This flier was pro-government, showing the Afghan flag and telling the people than the Afghan government army was here to help and protect them.
Then things took a turn for the weird side. Both fliers carried identifying codes, and somebody noticed that they were almost identical. So, it appeared the government and insurgents were using the same printing company. It got worse. The interpreters asked the children where each of the leaflets came from. Each time, they got the same answer: the Afghan government army. Then one of the interpreters looked again at the flier. "Ah," he said. "It says the foreign jihadist fighters are killing our Muslims."
There was much discussion of this new and more favourable, if somewhat obtuse, interpretation. As McChrystal pointed out, if two well-educated interpreters couldn't decipher the flier, how were the farmers and labourers of Rabat supposed to?"
Here are some good pictures from Rabat, by the way. The one I'm including here is a pic of a boys' school, opened there in 2007... and the target audience of the above detailed, sophisticated information operation. (Photo by Thomas Doscher, US Air Force)

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