US retreat from PSYOP helps Taliban gain ‘psychological ground’
At a time when the US military has inexplicably moved away from psychological operations, the Taliban in Afghanistan has been gaining “psychological ground.”
“There are periods when an enemy does well and seems better trained and fights harder,” a senior defense official tells Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post. “The number one indicator we have out there now is that they think they’re winning. That creates an attitude, a positive outlook, and a willingness to sacrifice.”
This is the exact opposite effect that US policy should be having. US strategy must be to demoralize the Taliban and its commanders, fighters and supporters. US strategy must break their spirit, cause the people to turn against them, and cause the commanders and fighters to turn against one another. US psychological strategy must be to cause the Taliban to implode from within, to induce its leaders to betray and kill one another – not to unite together as has been happening.
If we can’t physically hunt down the Taliban commanders, we can accomplish the same objective psychologically by demoralizing the enemy and inducing its self-destruction from within.
One of the problems, of course, has been that the US abandoned the concept of psychological strategy decades ago. And since the 1990s it has given short-shrift to a well-established, successful element of military power: psychological operations or PSYOP.
PSYOP has taken the back seat to a new replacement concept, “information operations,” and a larger, nebulous-sounding concept of “strategic communication.” Yet the military is not united in its concept of info ops, or IO, and the shift from psychological dominance to information dominance has left us full of information but with little to show for it.
Several senior US commanders have told me that the PSYOP now being waged is “juvenile,” “infantile,” “embarrassingly basic,” “elementary,” and so on. But I know for a fact that many of our PSYOP people have devised sophisticated products that the military no longer has the means or worldview to employ.
The US military leadership must re-think its drift away from PSYOP, and restore what’s needed to master the psychological battlespace.
“The positive outlook has a basis in fact, the official said, as areas of Taliban influence have expanded,” deYoung reports. “They have enough of the landscape that they control to be able to train more and in closer proximity to where they’re fighting. And the people [living] there actually believe the Taliban can do something.”
“To the Taliban, winning is, in fact, not losing,” a US official tells the Post. “They feel that over time, they will ultimately outlast the international community’s attempt to stabilize Afghanistan. It’s really a game of will to them.”
It’s time for National Security Advisor Jim Jones to dust off old US military psychological warfare manuals and strategies and order the development of a national-level psychological strategy – and for military commanders to strengthen and empower PSYOP and all it has to offer the warfighter and the nation.