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ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign

The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003-January 2005

Part II

Transition to a New Campaign

Chapter 7
Fighting the Battle of Ideas in Iraq


Information Operations before Operation IRAQI FREEDOM: The Balkans

The Army’s use of IO in the Balkans during the 1990s was a formative experience for many Soldiers and served as a useful precedent for those who later deployed to Iraq in 2003 and 2004. For the US Army, the experience in the Balkans began in 1995 after the Dayton Peace Agreement ended years of civil war inside the former Yugoslavia. Some 28,000 US troops led the NATO Implementation Force (IFOR) into Bosnia on 16 December 1995. The mission of the 60,000 NATO and Russian soldiers in the IFOR, and later the Stabilization Force (SFOR), was to “ensure continued compliance with the cease-fire” and to “ensure the withdrawal of forces from the agreed cease-fire zones of separation back to their respective territories, and ensure the separation of forces.”12

As soon as US and NATO troops entered Bosnia and Yugoslavia, commanders and planners spent considerable time and effort on the soft power aspect of IO to support their overall campaign. In Bosnia, commanders directed IO to help communicate their intentions to the local population and win their support for the IFOR and the SFOR missions. At the same time, IO was utilized to deter the former warring factions from violating the Dayton Agreement and to discourage those factions from attacking NATO forces.13

For Soldiers in the IFOR, IO consisted of two main efforts. According to one study by the National Defense University (NDU), the first effort was designed to establish IFOR’s “credibility with the international media to gain international support of the operation.”14 This part of the campaign was largely successful because of widespread international approval for the operation. The second element was a PSYOP campaign designed to “shape the local population’s perception in favor of IFOR troops and activities.”15 Products included posters, magazines, newspapers, and radio station programs. The PSYOP effort, despite some initial setbacks, was also considered a success. However, too many of the products produced in the first months, especially the printed posters, reflected an orientation toward American culture rather than European culture. The later products that had a European feel, such as the teenage magazine MIRKO, proved much more successful.16 The Army quickly learned the importance of cultural understanding as a critical component of IO.

One significant and decidedly low-tech factor in the success of PSYOP in Bosnia was the individual actions of US commanders and Soldiers. The NDU study of IO in Bosnia contended, “The success of the IFOR mission as a whole rested largely on their individual abilities to persuade the FWF [former warring factions] that peace was the only alternative.”17 This was largely accomplished with one of the oldest PSYOP techniques in the book—face-to-face communications. The ability of commanders and Soldiers of all ranks to sit down in coffee houses, restaurants, or private homes and talk with the local population allowed the Soldiers to speak to people in real terms and build rapport. These interactions distributed the PSYOP message quickly, and the impact of that message was assessed immediately from the response of the target audience.18

Four years later, the US and NATO employed IO during the 1999 NATO-led occupation of Kosovo to stop the humanitarian disaster and ethnic warfare between Serbians and ethnic Albanians. During the 78-day bombing campaign, IO targeted offensive and defensive weapons systems to support air strikes and other military operations. When the threat of a NATO ground invasion forced withdrawal of Serbian troops in June 1999, NATO’s Kosovo forces (KFOR) entered a region without an effective central government and with two ethnic groups bent on revenge. The Serbs, though small in number, had held all political and economic power under the regime led by Slobodan Milosevic. After years of perpetrating abuses on the ethnic Albanian population, which made up the majority of Kosovo’s population, the Serbs found themselves the target of Albanian retribution. Kosovo soon became a three-way information struggle between KFOR, the Serbian Government, and Kosovo Albanians for the attention of the civilian population.

To fight the battle of ideas in Yugoslavia and Kosovo, KFOR used PA, CA, and both offensive and defensive IO. Defensively, IO countered misinformation and propaganda, especially that distributed by local and regional media. By circulating KFOR’s perspective regarding events and issues, IO limited, and even neutralized, the effects of provocative rhetoric and anti-KFOR misinformation.19 Offensively, KFOR Soldiers and leaders actively engaged important Albanian and Serbian leaders and organizations. US forces used PSYOP loudspeaker operations, handbills, radio broadcasts, press releases, media events, medical assistance programs, reconstruction and short-term employment projects, face-to-face meetings, and force presence to achieve their goals in the information environment.20

Assessing the success of IO in Kosovo proved difficult. Army officers tried to determine the effectiveness of specific efforts by determining trends within their areas of responsibility (AORs) using unit and media reporting assessments. Most commands tried to determine whether an incident generally resulted in a positive effect—one that supported KFOR’s mission, or had a negative effect—one that went against KFOR’s mission.21 Though the campaign dragged on without a solution to Kosovo’s status as a political entity, most US commanders deemed IO in Kosovo as successful because neither side turned against NATO and negotiations continued relatively peacefully.

For many Soldiers who served in the Balkans, their experience in IFOR and KFOR validated the importance of the soft-power aspect of IO doctrine and at the same time revealed many shortcomings in its practice. Though the Balkan deployments generated debate about how to implement IO in concert with overall campaign plans, nearly all leaders internalized the principle that IO was integral to the overall campaign in Bosnia and Kosovo. Unlike Iraq in mid-2003 and 2004, however, the Balkans did not present the Army with a determined insurgent and terrorist enemy, or with the degree of cultural and religious separation between the occupier and the general population.

Chapter 7. Fighting the Battle of Ideas in Iraq

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