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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


PA/IO Tension in the New Campaign

When General George W. Casey Jr. assumed command of MNF-I on 1 July 2004, he expanded the role of IO and PA to improve the Coalition’s efforts to win the battle of ideas in Iraq. He also increased the resources devoted to that line of operations. Realizing that MNF-I had to compete with the graphic television and video images that highlighted the visual imagery of violence in Iraq, he created a concept called “the drumbeat of steady progress.” Casey wanted MNF-I to publicize in a very emphatic manner the steady march toward the Iraqi assumption of responsibility for every aspect of their political, economic, and military lives. The most salient indication of self-rule was, of course, the elections for an Iraqi National Assembly scheduled for January 2005—only 7 months from the creation of the interim government in late June 2004 and the main effort for the Coalition in the second half of 2004.122

To better synchronize IO and PA efforts within his headquarters, Casey created the Directorate of Strategic Communications within the operations staff of the MNF-I. The mission of the directorate was to increase public support for the Iraqi Government and the Coalition while reducing support for the insurgents and terrorists. The STRATCOM‡ office, as the directorate was often called, defined its mission in the form of five goals, which included “driving a wedge” between the Iraqi population and the insurgents (see figure 67). Understandably, the staff in the directorate viewed the Iraqi people as their primary target audience, but considered the US and Coalition audiences as important secondary audiences. Using surveys conducted by an Iraqi organization, the STRATCOM staff determined that 70 to 80 percent of the Iraqi people received their news from satellite or ground-based television, while only 10 to 15 percent used newspapers, and 3 to 5 percent got their news from posters and fliers.123 MNF-I used this analysis to prioritize their efforts in 2005.

The STRATCOM office merged the previously separate functions of PA and IO into a single staff section under Air Force Brigadier General Erwin F. (Erv) Lessel who had served as the IO Officer for MNF-I. Lessel was assisted by a Navy deputy, a deputy for PA, and a deputy for PSYOP. The office consisted of five divisions: plans and effects, current operations, assessment, a liaison cell with MNC-I, and the CPIC, each led by a lieutenant colonel.124 For the 6 months following its inception in September 2004, the STRATCOM office reported to the MNF-I Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategic Operations. In January 2005 Lessel and his staff directed one of the biggest IO efforts of the campaign when it orchestrated 121 media interviews, 19 media trips, and 10 press conferences; hosted 164 embedded reporters; and facilitated 36 Iraqi media events in support of the Iraqi elections.125 In the spring of 2005, the STRATCOM office within the MNF-I headquarters was again elevated, making Lessel one of seven deputy chiefs of staff reporting directly to General Casey.126 Despite its increasing visibility and importance, the STRATCOM office experienced difficulties in filling its entire staff; as late as June 2005 the office had filled only 62 of 71 authorized positions.127

The conceptual tension between IO and PA, which was centered on the issue of how to use information as both a weapon in operations against the enemy and as a means of providing truthful information about the Army to the American public, caused IO and PA Soldiers in OIF to constantly adjust and coordinate their efforts. It was impossible for PA officers and commanders to avoid any linkage between PA and IO operations. It was also impossible for them to subordinate PA, with its requirement for truthfulness, to IO that targeted various audiences to advance Coalition objectives. No one wanted to mix the two disciplines too closely; it was unethical and risked returning military–media relations to the nadir they reached at the end of the Vietnam war. Commanders and PA officers in OIF resolved the dilemma by coordinating the two efforts where useful while maintaining a barrier between them to preserve the supremacy of truthfulness in PA.

According to Colonel Jill Morgenthaler, a PA officer for CJTF-7 and MNF-I in 2004, maintaining conceptual and legal distance between IO and PA functions required constant vigilance the entire time she served in Iraq.128 Colonel William Darley, a PAO for CJTF-7, recalled that there was pressure to put a positive slant on information. However, Darley felt that he and his team remained objective and unbiased when working with the media. Darley stated, “The view that I took and the view I tried to impart to the people who were working for me directly was that we were there as PA officers, military PA officers, and we try to be as apolitical as possible.”129 Captain Ludvigson, of the 139th MPAD, also strived to maintain a separation between IO and PA even while coordinating activities within the IO strategy:

Now, did we synchronize our messages with IO? Yes, absolutely. If IO had the intent of trying to build up a particular area, let’s say Tall Afar, if they had the intent of trying to convince the people of Tall Afar that things were getting better and the terrorists were doing bad things, there was nothing wrong with us getting a hold of some of the Tall Afar media and saying, ‘hey, would you like to come and look at some of the water wells that have been built in the outlying towns? Would you like to see the hospital that has been built?’ Again, we were telling the truth, but it just so happened to nest with the IO.130

The attitudes of Ludvigson, Darley, and Morgenthaler were illustrative of the PA community’s commitment to keeping that barrier between its mission and IO strong.

As mentioned earlier, the MNF-I staff had designed the STRATCOM office to better integrate all IO and related activities by creating unity of effort and command within one staff section. This organizational move, nevertheless, also created a potentially dangerous merging of the two disciplines of PA and IO. It is clear that MNF-I and the STRATCOM office created and maintained an organizational “firewall” between its IO functions and its media operations/PA agencies (see STRATCOM functional lay down). However, the actual processes used on a routine basis involved sending guidance and feedback across that “firewall,” rendering it less than insurmountable.131

Soon after MNF-I created the STRATCOM office, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard B. Myers issued a memo to all joint commands warning that combining IO and PA staffs into one section “[has] the potential to compromise the commander’s credibility with the media and the public.”132 The message cautioned commanders to be careful; it was not, as some media reports indicated, a prohibition of the practice. Though he acknowledged that “it drove the public affairs guys absolutely crazy,” General Casey believed that better coordination did not compromise the PA function. Casey asserted, “I believe that we are sophisticated enough to have IO and PA in the same organization. We can operate in that mode without people rushing over trying to influence the international media.”133

Fewer than 2 months after the creation of the MNF-I Directorate of Strategic Communications headquarters in Baghdad, the Coalition began preparations to attack the Sunni insurgents who had taken control of the city of Fallujah. As part of their overall plan of operations, Marine leaders created very close linkages between PA and IO in support of Operation AL FAJR. Marine and Army commanders used a variety of IO activities, PSYOP, and EW to shape the battlefield before the Marine and Army forces launched their main ground attack on the city.134

On 14 October 2004, 3 weeks before the main attack began, US Marine First Lieutenant Lyle Gilbert spoke live to CNN reporter Jamie McIntyre from a location on the outskirts of the city. In the midst of other remarks, Gilbert stated, “Troops crossed the line of departure. We had artillery fire, prep fire going out . . . aircraft have been moving through the area all day, helicopters providing transport. It’s been a pretty uncomfortable time. It’s going to be a long night.”135 In fact, the assault phase of AL FAJR had not begun, and later that day CNN reported they had been misled. General Casey later acknowledged that this was a case where the lines might have been improperly blurred, but that decentralized execution of strategic communications was necessary. At the same time he noted the tremendous success of the overall IO effort against the insurgents’ tactical operations, and even insurgent leaders admitted they lost the battle for ideas in Fallujah.136

Subsequent reporting by the media asserted that Gilbert’s comments were carefully worded to create the impression the attack was beginning, to deceive the insurgents as to the time and location of the main attack, and to lure them into exposing their positions and plans. As such, it was a classic use of a military deception (MILDEC) operation, one that apparently assisted Coalition forces to pinpoint insurgent locations in Fallujah. Media outlets and others in and outside of the Government also criticized the Marines and the MNF-I Directorate of Strategic Communications (though it was not involved in this incident) for improperly blurring the lines between PA and IO.137 This incident and the ensuing controversy illustrated the difficulty in maintaining the boundaries between the various activities falling under the umbrella of IO in particular situations in Iraq. It is exceedingly difficult to prevent MILDEC and PSYOP activities on the battlefield from spilling over into normal media processes in the information age, particularly when the media is part of the battlefield itself. In this case, while they proved beneficial, PA activities were improperly used in support of an overall IO plan.

The cardinal principle that PA operations must remain faithful to the truth, even if coordinated with other IO activities focused on influencing the enemy, was reinforced after this incident. Darley succinctly and cogently summarized the principle:

The foremost role of public affairs is to protect the integrity of the military as an institution overall by ensuring that it is recognized as the most reliable source for official military information among all other competing sources. To accomplish its mission, the only arrows in the public affairs quiver are exercising the simple virtues of telling the truth and facilitating access by outside observers to confirm the truth of what is elsewhere officially asserted. Where neither access nor truth is appropriate, public affairs is not appropriate.138

As a result of the Fallujah incident and other pressures, DOD reinforced the existing principle of the primacy of truth in PA operations with new joint doctrine published in 2006, which unequivocally stated that specified IO activities are directed against adversaries, not domestic US audiences or the media.139

‡The term STRATCOM is unofficial and should not be confused with the United States Strategic Command (STRATCOM), which is a unified command responsible for the nation’s nuclear forces.

Chapter 7. Fighting the Battle of Ideas in Iraq

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