Psychological Operations and the Afghanistan Withdrawal

N.M. Guariglia writes on the Middle East and South Asia. He can be contacted at nmguar@gmail.com.


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It has been a bad month in Afghanistan.  First there was the inadvertent burning of the Koran by U.S. troops.  Although the Korans had initially been desecrated by Taliban prisoners—an act forbidden in Islam—this fact was lost on the Afghans.  In their self-righteous vengeance, Afghans killed numerous Americans, most notably two U.S. Army officers that were shot in the back of the head inside the Afghan Interior Ministry.  These murders prompted NATO—which had shamelessly agreed to prosecute the Americans involved in the Koran burning—to withdraw its personnel from all Afghan ministries.  Even hawkish conservative stalwarts were beginning to say “the hell with the place.”

Then Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales purportedly massacred 17 Afghan civilians, a cold-blooded act that threatens to change the entire dynamics of the war.  Subsequently, about 200 U.S. Marines were told to leave their weapons outside the tent during a visit from Defense Secretary Panetta.  This was a symbolic moment that spoke volumes about the disarray of our strategy.  Trust is indispensable in war, and it is being undermined in every corner.  The timeline for withdrawal from Afghanistan—slated for either 2013 or 2014, depending on who is asked—may now be expedited due to these developments.

Yet all is not lost in Afghanistan.  While the United States might not “win” the decade-long war, it is almost impossible to lose.  In a sense, there is nothing to win: Afghan culture is an embarrassment to the human condition.  Even the “good guys” will kill people over a book and then sell their daughters to a septuagenarian.  But there is nothing to lose, either.  Lest we forget, the U.S. routed al-Qaeda and the Taliban more than ten years ago, by December 2001, with the use of just 5,200 troops.  The ensuing failure of Afghan civil society is not a U.S. military defeat.

In World War II, General Douglas MacArthur famously said, “We are not retreating—we are advancing in another direction.”  As we begin to withdraw from Afghanistan, U.S. leaders should speak in a comparable manner.  What we need is a public psychological operations strategy—or what the military now calls “Military Information Support Operations,” or MISO—coupled with tangible displays of military superiority.

Win or lose, Afghanistan was always going to be at the whims of Pakistan.  Thus, the U.S. has a Pakistan problem, not a Taliban problem.  It’s Hamid Karzai with the Taliban problem.  The Taliban are bad actors, no doubt, but they’re essentially a hobnob militia.  The head of the snake is Pakistan, which covertly supports al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and every major terrorist group in South Asia.  We must be clear: our eventual withdrawal from Afghanistan does not portend an American flight from South Asian politics.  In fact, if we are wise, it might strengthen our leverage.

We must intensify our drone campaign throughout the “Af-Pak” theater—and talk about it openly, too.  Predator drones work.  They have killed thousands of top-tier terrorists and have not hurt our popularity throughout the region (we are already unpopular).  The drones have, however, undermined among the indigenous population the popularity of the Taliban.  If someone in your village were liable to get bombed at any moment, at some point you would want to kick him out your village.

Our air campaign has struck fear into the hearts of the enemy.  Terror chieftain Ustadh Ahmad Farooq was quoted as saying: “There were many areas where we once had freedom, but now they have been lost.  We are the ones that are losing people; we are the ones facing shortages of resources.  Our land is shrinking and drones are flying in the sky.”  American leaders should be citing quotes like this publicly.  Bringing to light the enemy’s private fears is effective psychological warfare.

Although there are some slippery-slope arguments against the use of Predator drones, we should not doubt their efficacy.  The conventional wisdom once suggested that the more we bombed, the more we would “inflame” hatred against us.  But just the opposite is true.  The more air supremacy we display over our al-Qaeda and Taliban adversaries, the more they doubt themselves and their actions.  The truth is this: when our Islamist enemies have been irrefutably whipped on the battlefield, they are not enraged, but rather humbled, and are more prone to second-guess the divine sanction of their cause.  Allah doesn’t like losers, you see.  This was Osama bin Laden’s old “strong horse” logic: a neutral man will not gravitate to a weak horse.

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  • cheese_burger

    From the article: "This, above all, will drive the enemy nuts: they do not want to be laughed at."

    Question: Why don't Muslims eat pork?
    Answer: Islam forbids cannibalism.

  • cheese_burger

    Pretzel Sex in Islam:

    Only in Islam, can a man's three sexually active prepubescent wives (all age nine), be younger than his sexually active prepubescent daughters, without violating any Islamic laws.

    (The first of his four wives, would have produced his daughters).

  • Alvaro

    Humour is always the best weapon against extremes. Just imagine one of the bearded imams screaming and cursing the "immoral" West, and a roar of laughter emerged.

  • Schlomotion

    I agree with the basic thrust of this article. However, I hope the above statement never has to be uttered here by US citizens: “There were many areas where we once had freedom, but now they have been lost. We are the ones that are losing people; we are the ones facing shortages of resources. Our land is shrinking and drones are flying in the sky.”

  • ObamaYoMoma

    Although the Korans had initially been desecrated by Taliban prisoners—an act forbidden in Islam—this fact was lost on the Afghans.

    Actually, that entire episode was deliberately drummed up, as Muslims whether they are Afghans or the Taliban are our eternal mortal enemies and the eternal mortal enemies of all non-Muslim unbelievers in the world. As not only were both nation-building missions in Afghanistan and Iraq exceedingly fantasy based and preordained to fail because they were premised on false PC multicultural myths and misconceptions about Islam, but both of them were about as counterproductive and insane as saving Hitler and lifting up the Nazis during WWII.

    In their self-righteous vengeance, Afghans killed numerous Americans, most notably two U.S. Army officers that were shot in the back of the head inside the Afghan Interior Ministry. 

    And Leon Panetta should be fired ASAP for first apologizing and second for not being able to maintain order in Afghanistan, as all the Imams and members of the Afghan legislature that were inciting violence against American troops should have been arrested immediately and all riots also forcefully put down. Hence, the blood of the troops unnecessarily killed in that disgraceful episode is on Panetta and the Obama administration's hands.

    Even hawkish conservative stalwarts were beginning to say “the hell with the place.”

    We have no business being in Afghanistan. Never did, and the mission was preordained to fail from the very get go because it was premised on false PC multicultural myths and misconceptions about Islam. Indeed, the only reason we are still over there today is to cover up the fact that both Afghanistan and Iraq are the two biggest strategic blunders ever in American history.

    Meanwhile, thousands of Americans were either killed or maimed and $4 trillion of taxpayer money was wasted all for nothing. Yet, those responsible aren't being prosecuted and punished for gross dereliction of duty. Why? Why is no one in both the GWB and Obama administrations responsible for this monstrosity being held to account today? Obviously, it's because our corrupt political elites on both sides of the political aisle are also incredibly incompetent while at the same time covering up for their own failures. Which further begs the question how all of this came about? It's because the left and the Saudi and Gulf State Emirates have together hijacked, co-opted, and usurped our colleges and universities, our medias, our political elites on both sides of the political aisle, and indeed our federal government.

    This was a symbolic moment that spoke volumes about the disarray of our strategy. 

    Muslims never acquiesce to modern civilized mores, whether it is infidel troops serving in their countries for their own benefit, which couldn't be anymore counterproductive, or whether it is mass Muslim immigration to the West that is really covert and deceptive non-violent jihad for the purpose of mass infiltration and stealth demographic conquest. Instead, it is always only the infidels that must bow down in humiliation and acquiesce to the Muslims barbaric 7th century mores.

    But there is nothing to lose, either.  Lest we forget, the U.S. routed al-Qaeda and the Taliban more than ten years ago, by December 2001, with the use of just 5,200 troops.  The ensuing failure of Afghan civil society is not a U.S. military defeat.

    Excuse me, but go tell that to the parents of the troops that were either killed or maimed and the taxpayers who seen over $4 trillion of their tax money thrown down the proverbial drain all for nothing.

    In World War II, General Douglas MacArthur famously said, “We are not retreating—we are advancing in another direction.”  As we begin to withdraw from Afghanistan, U.S. leaders should speak in a comparable manner.

    Yeah right and at the same time sweep all the miserable failures under the rug like they never did happened. Give me a break!

    The head of the snake is Pakistan, which covertly supports al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and every major terrorist group in South Asia.

    Uhm…Pakistan also maintains a massive Saudi owned nuclear weapons arsenal that is intended to be proliferated throughout the Sunni Islamic world as soon as Iran acquires nukes. Not to mention that without massive Saudi and Gulf State Emirate financial aid, Pakistan is bankrupt. Thus, it is not only Pakistan, it is also the House of Saud and the Gulf State Emirates. Indeed, I beg your pardon, but the head of the snake is actually the House of Saud.

    Hence, any real solution would entail eliminating Iran's nuclear weapons program and Pakistan's Saudi owned nuclear weapons arsenal ASAP. Then seizing and occupying the Mideast oilfields and seizing and confiscating the enormous unearned oil wealth of the Saudis and Gulf State Emirates, not out of greed, but in self-defense because they are using those resources and assets today to wage a stealth global jihad against all non-Muslim unbelievers in the world on a massive scale. Moreover, I would not hesitate one iota to use nuclear weapons if we have to to eliminate these threats since the stakes are so high.

    –continued below

    • Former Jarhead

      Minor point (and not relevant to the arguments of the original article or replies to it): the quote the author attributes to MacArthur during WW2 was actually said by Major General Oliver P. Smith, commander of the 1st Marine Division, during the division's breakout from its encirclement by Chinese forces at the Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War. (See comments above.)

  • ObamaYoMoma

    We must intensify our drone campaign throughout the “Af-Pak” theater—and talk about it openly, too. Predator drones work. They have killed thousands of top-tier terrorists

    Here is one of your biggest miscalculations. We are not fighting terrorists. We are fighting jihadists, as in stark contrast to terrorism, jihad is holy fighting in the cause of Allah against non-Muslim unbelievers to make Islam supreme and constitutes total warfare that employs both violent and non-violent means of jihad.

    Further, covert and deceptive non-violent jihad is employed by the Islamic world against the West and un-Islamic world astronomically far more prevalently and in fact constitutes an exponentially far greater threat to the peace, prosperity, and security of the West and un-Islamic world relative to violent jihad.

    In fact, the covert and deceptive non-violent jihadists that have hijacked, co-opted, and usurped our colleges and universities, our news medias, our political elites on both sides of the political aisles, and our federal government represent an astronomically far greater threat to America than all the violent jihadists in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the entire Islamic world put together.

    Indeed, just one well placed covert and deceptive non-violent jihadists can wreck more damage than one hundred 9/11 violent jihad attacks. As a matter of fact, the 9/11 violent jihad attacks never would have ever been possible if not for covert and deceptive non-violent jihadists that plowed the ground and planted the seeds first for it to happen.

    Per the dictates of PC multiculturalism, you guys have for years been conflating what is really jihad, which constitutes total warfare that employs both violent and non-violent means of jihad, with being terrorism, which as its name implies can only be violent. Nevertheless, the threat emanating from covert and deceptive non-violent jihad, such as mass Muslim immigration to the West for the purpose of mass infiltration and stealth demographic conquest, that is completely ignored today thanks to PC multiculturalism, actually constitutes the primary threat today.

    Meanwhile, this enormous error in perception – thanks to PC multiculturalism – is analogous to the West completely ignoring the covert war the Soviets waged against the West during the Cold War. Had the West foolishly made that same stupid error during the Cold War, it would be one big gigantic communist gulag today, and if the West doesn't soon wake up and realize the errors of its ways, it will find itself subjugated dhimmis to 7th century Islamic barbarians and entering a new Dark Age.

    and have not hurt our popularity throughout the region (we are already unpopular).

    Whatever happened to knowing your enemy as well as you know yourself? All Muslims are obligated to maintain nothing but enmity in their hearts for all non-Muslim unbelievers? How could they not hate our guts?

    The drones have, however, undermined among the indigenous population the popularity of the Taliban.

    I could care less about the Taliban. If not for the millions of covert and deceptive jihadists already living in America as a fifth column, the Taliban would not even be a threat today. Hell, the 9/11 violent jihad attacks would have been absolutely impossible as well. The writer obviously doesn't get it because he is blinded to the hilt by PC multiculturalism, just like most Americans as well.

    The conventional wisdom once suggested that the more we bombed, the more we would “inflame” hatred against us.

    Again, this is a measure of how much our political elites and federal government have been infiltrated by our enemy. Indeed, all Muslims are obligated to always maintain nothing but hate in their hearts for non-Muslim unbelievers. Bombing them is hardly going to inflame what is already inflamed. Of course, if not for mass Muslim infiltration, our political elites and federal government would have already known this before they ever dropped the first bomb in Afghanistan.

    Indeed, because of PC multiculturalism you guys are all focusing on only a minor threat, the primary threat nevertheless emanates from the millions of covert and deceptive non-violent jihadists already living inside America as a fifth column and not from some violent jihadists many thousands of miles away that you guys stupidly conflate as being terrorists. You guys need to wake up and wipe away the PC multiculturalism from your eyes.

    The terrorists’ cause would be greatly damaged should our national leaders use similar tactics on a more consistent basis.

    I highly doubt the writer even knows what the terrorist’s cause is. Hell, he can't even figure out that they are really violent jihadists and that they represents only a tiny minority of all jihadists in the world, as the vast overwhelming majority of jihadists in the world today are actually covert and deceptive non-violent jihadists, which he is completely oblivious of thanks to institutionalized PC multicultural blindness.

    –continued below

  • ObamaYoMoma

    Advocates of the current strategy argue that our abandonment of the nation-building project will result in al-Qaeda and the Taliban reestablishing their bases throughout Afghanistan (from which they would plot more attacks)

    It's not rocket science here, if we didn't have a fifth column of covert and deceptive jihadists already conveniently living in America today, how could 7th century barbarians in Pakistan and Afghanistan attack America? The simple common sense answer is they couldn't.

    Hence, we need to outlaw Islam because it is really a supremacist theo-political totalitarian ideology masquerading as a religion to dupe the gullible societies it intends to subjugate into a very draconian form of Islamic totalitarianism and ban and reverse mass Muslim immigration with all of its excess baggage ASAP because it is really covert and deceptive non-violent jihad for the purpose of mass infiltration and stealth demographic conquest.

    In any event, I'd like to see the writer of this article or anyone else logically attempt to refute me.

    • guest

      agreed with your analysis on most points.good job

      • ObamaYoMoma

        Appreciate it.

  • Former Jarhead

    Just a minor correction: Julian Smith was commander of the 2nd Marine Division when it assaulted Tarawa atoll during WW2, the commander of the 1st Marine Division during the Korean War's Chosin Resevoir campaign (the source of the quote) was Oliver P. Smith.