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PSYOP teams give Marines another voice on battlefield

Marine Corps News

Story Identification #: 200522313435
Story by Cpl. Rich Mattingly

JALALABAD, Afghanistan (Feb. 18, 2005) -- The crowd grew in the afternoon fog, eager eyes waiting to see what the soldiers, Marines and Afghan Police were posting on the sign-board they had just set up in front of the most popular radio station in town.

“Whenever they see the ‘speaker truck,’ people know we have information to disseminate, and we’ll attract a large crowd very quickly,” observed Army Sgt. Joshua Hale, psychological operations specialist with the 13th PSYOP battalion, referring to his unit’s popularity among the Afghan people and the recognition the speakers mounted to his humvee brings. “Everyone wants our pamphlets and papers,” he explained. “Every Afghan I’ve met wants to know what’s going on in the country. We give them information that they might not get any other way about what’s going on.” Within minutes of their arrival, several hundred newspapers and leaflets are gone, and carried off in eager arms.

A recent media survey performed by an independent research group found that 80 percent of Afghans say they find it “very important” to be informed about nationwide events. While the overall literacy rate remains around 30 percent, Afghans voraciously consume any news about their country they can find. For the Afghan Government and the Coalition, this eagerness to remain informed is a large part of the democratic process and another vehicle for them to spread their message of Afghan solidarity.

“For a country whose government is moving forward toward legitimacy on a global scale, having an informed populace who supports their own freely-elected government and its programs is important,” said Marine Capt. Tony Apisa, information operations officer with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines. “PSYOP’s provide Marine units an additional asset in communicating with the local populace. In an environment where information operations are often the main effort, PSYOP units are crucial.”

Psychological operations, with a name that conjures images of war movie propaganda, in actuality has everything to do with getting the truth out to the public. Their “product,” as it is referred to, carries certain messages about government programs and general information in addition to news. PSYOP material often includes health and hygiene tips and warnings about what to do if Afghans find unexploded ordnance or mines, a common problem lingering from earlier conflicts.

“What we do is not propaganda,” said Hale emphatically. “Propaganda is lies, and we don’t lie to anyone. We're here to get the truth out so that they can make decisions on their own.”

Army PSYOP soldiers feel they are making a difference that is tangible in the questions they are asked by Afghans when out on patrols with the Marines. More and more, they say, people are asking questions about government programs or how they can join the Afghan National Army, which continues to recruit heavily.

PSYOP teams assigned to 3/3 Marines are helping not so much to “win” hearts and minds in Afghanistan as informing Afghans, allowing them to make up their minds on their own.

“We’re helping to legitimize the Afghan government intellectually the same way the Marines help to legitimize the Afghan government by working with the Afghan National Army,” explained Hale.

For Marines working to destroy any foothold for terrorism or anti-government insurgency in Afghanistan, the psychological operations portion of their mission has become an important part of making Afghanistan a safer, more independent country. “They are able to provide everything from conducting command and control missions to distributing leaflets and posters informing the Afghans of local government programs,” said Apisa. “They are integrated into nearly every phase of operational planning.”

Issuing messages such as “lay down your weapons and you will not be harmed” or “medical treatment will be given at the village mosque today,” from their powerful speakers, the PSYOP Soldiers can help spread messages and diffuse situations in a way that increases the battlefield resources available to the commander.

“Third Battalion, Third Marines has been very fortunate to have Tactical PSYOP Teams in direct support of the battalion. Their experience and special skills bring a ‘non-kinetic’ fire support asset that the Marines have come to rely on,” concluded Apisa.

The Marines of America’s Battalion continue to conduct stability and support operations in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. Their focus remains upon providing a stable environment for the Afghan government to continue to progress, and supporting the Afghan National Army and Police forces as they take larger responsibility for the peaceful future of Afghanistan.

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