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Operations in Iraq: Lessons for the Future

CHAPTER 10 - THE INFORMATION CAMPAIGN

Key Lessons

  • An information campaign, to be successful, needs to start as early as possible and continue into the post-conflict phase of an operation.
  • A counter-information strategy can enhance the effectiveness of the information campaign and should form an integral part of the campaign from the outset.
  • Targeting of indigenous media infrastructure, where justified under international law, needs to take into account the respective needs of the information campaign and the overall military campaign.
  • The requirement for interpreters for information operations needs to be included in the planning process and a mechanism established to produce the required numbers of high quality interpreters at short notice.
  • Overall, the embedding of reporters with coalition forces resulted in accurate reporting of coalition operations. However, this effort should be matched by arrangements to address international and regional audiences.
  • If a robust UK media operations capability is to be realised, specialist manpower, training and equipment shortfalls need to be addressed.

Keeping Parliament and the Public Informed

10.1  Throughout the operation, Ministers sought to keep Parliament and the public informed of progress and of key events as they occurred, especially during the combat phase of the operation. Between 20 March and 14 April, Ministers made no fewer than nine statements to the House of Commons. On most days, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and Minister for Veterans Affairs, Dr Lewis Moonie, also posted a bullet-point update on the operation in the Library of the House. Ministers, usually supported by the Chief of the Defence Staff or a single Service Chief of Staff, also held eight press conferences during the same period. A further two press conferences were held in theatre by the UK National Contingent Commander, and Ministers gave three briefings to Lobby journalists. Since mid-April, Ministers have made a further ten Parliamentary statements on Iraq.

10.2  In a fast-moving operation, the challenge was always to provide as accurate and up-to-date information as possible. This was achieved to the best of MOD's ability, and while mistakes were sometimes made, this was due to the 'fog of war' rather than an attempt to mislead the media over the coalition's progress. It included an extensive range of facilities and briefings both in the UK and in the theatre of operations covering all aspects of the deployment and return of forces.

10.3  Following the announcement by the Defence Secretary on 20 January of the UK's substantial land deployment, a dedicated MOD website for the operation was created at http://www.operations.mod.uk/telic. This was designed to provide a wide range of information for members of the public and the media, including details of the units involved, extensive photographic galleries, reference maps and background documents, including summary details of military activity and of UK fatalities. During the period of active combat operations, the site was updated on a 24 hours a day/seven days a week basis. By the end of April, it comprised some 110 pages and documents, with about 580 photographs and video clips. There were in excess of 827,000 recorded visits to the site during this period, with over 1,830,000 pages viewed13. The site has been maintained since the conclusion of active combat operations, and by the end of August had grown to 160 pages and documents, and over 750 images. 1.3 million visits had been recorded, with over 2.6 million pages viewed.

Aim of the Information Campaign

10.4  An information campaign is a cross-Government activity involving diplomatic, economic, political and humanitarian elements. MOD's contribution to the campaign comprises two principal elements: Information Operations and Media Operations. As described in First Reflections14, the aim of the UK's information campaign was to influence the will of the Iraqi regime, the attitudes of its security forces and civilians as well as the regional audience, and to inform international opinion. It also sought to articulate and explain the Government's strategy to other audiences, including our allies and partners, and countries that were either non-aligned or opposed to UK policy on Iraq.

10.5  While co-ordination of information campaign activity across Government and the agencies was extremely good at the working level during the campaign phase, this declined during the early part of the post-conflict phase. This led to a dilution of its effectiveness and coherence, despite the importance of the contribution it can make to maintaining the consent of the Iraqi people. There is a requirement for a more permanent mechanism to establish overall ownership of and responsibilities for the information campaign. Co-ordination mechanisms with potential coalition partners should be reviewed in order to ensure the delivery of a consistent message.

Counter-Information

10.6  Counter-Information is the defence against hostile information (including its pre-emption), as well as the destruction of an opponent's credibility by exposing errors and lies. Counter-information was under-utilised by the coalition during the combat phase of the operation. For example, the extent of coalition forces' advance was not exploited to counter false claims from organisations such as the Iraqi Ministry of Information. While MOD addressed this to a certain extent, the operation highlighted the need to include counter-information as an essential cross-Government activity and an integral part of the whole information campaign.

10.7  In accordance with international law, media infrastructure in Iraq was only targeted if there was sufficient evidence that it was being used by the Iraqi regime for command and control purposes. However, as a consequence of such targeting, the coalition lost a means subsequently to transmit stabilising and calming messages to the Iraqi people, which made it difficult to combat the aggressive counter-information campaign by Iraq and sympathetic neighbouring countries. Decisions on attacks against media infrastructure whose use makes it a legitimate military target need to be finely judged and informed by the potentially competing demands of the information campaign and the coalition's overall military objectives.

Measurement of Effectiveness

10.8  Measurement of the success of an effects-based operation such as an information campaign is important, but difficult to achieve. In order to guide the continuing campaign, new forms of systematic assessment were developed, including the evaluation of the UK print media. The computer-based tools used have a wider application in processing data from a range of sources to inform commanders at all levels. Separately, during the post-conflict phase, a number of opinion polls were taken in Multinational Division (South East), which provided valuable feedback on the mood and opinions of the Iraqi people on coalition activity.

Interpreters

The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers distributes emergency aid near Basrah
The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers distributes emergency aid near Basrah

10.9  The ability to communicate is critical in helping UK forces to gain the trust and respect of the local population. Oral communication also underpins intelligence collection and all 'hearts and minds' activities. However, UK forces' conduct of information operations was constrained by the limited number of UK Arabic interpreters. The requirement for interpreters needs to be included in the planning process and a mechanism established to produce the required numbers of high quality interpreters at short notice.

Media Operations

10.10  As described in First Reflections15, the availability of real-time media communications from the battlefield, 24-hour television coverage and the presence of thousands of reporters and commentators - not only in capital cities and headquarters on both sides of the campaign divide, but also embedded in front-line units - gave the world unprecedented access to events as they unfolded. Building on the experience gained in previous conflicts, coalition media operations were much improved compared to recent operations and the extensive resulting coverage was generally well informed and usually factually accurate.

10.11  Some 700 journalists were embedded with coalition forces, 153 of whom were assigned to UK units as war correspondents. Although these correspondents placed a burden on the hosting units, commercial analysis of the print output they produced during the combat phase shows that 90% of embedded correspondents' reporting was either positive or neutral, although their reporting inevitably lacked the broader context of the overall operation. The reporting of coalition successes was also a useful means to apply pressure on the Iraqi regime, particularly when the reporting exposed as propaganda the briefings delivered by the Iraqi Information Minister. As a result of their experience as war correspondents, many journalists acknowledge that they have a better understanding of the Armed Forces. The war correspondents were predominantly from UK organisations, and although their product was pooled, greater international and regional media representation amongst the embedded reporters, particularly from Arabic broadcasters, could have extended media coverage to other key audiences.

The Secretary of State for Defence addresses the crew of HMS CHATHAM
The Secretary of State for Defence addresses the crew of HMS CHATHAM

10.12  Military media operations personnel were needed in the coalition Press Information Centres in Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain as well as in the Forward Press Information Centre with Headquarters 1(UK) Armoured Division. However, shortages of trained media operations personnel meant that most positions were filled by double-hatted Regular or Reserve personnel. This delayed the establishment of a robust media operations capability sufficiently early in theatre, at a time when the media were arriving in significant numbers. We need to address how to provide an early media capability in an era of high profile, high readiness expeditionary operations.

10.13  Media operations became more difficult during the transition from the combat phase to 6061post-conflict operations, because many experienced media operations personnel returned to the UK and embedded reporters either left theatre or were unable to operate effectively because of the hazardous security situation. This loss of initiative made it difficult to satisfy media requirements and counter negative coverage effectively. Planning for similar operations in future should take into account, from the outset, media demands during the transition to the post-conflict phase.

 

 


13 Website statistics tend to underestimate actual usage, not recording access via cache servers.
14 First Reflections: Box page 18
15 First Reflections: Box page 16

 Chapter 9 - Logisitics
 Contents 
Chapter 11 - Post Conflict Operations 



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