US propaganda marketing war to Afghans

  • From: "Muslim-News" <editor_@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <submit@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Mon, 10 Jun 2002 09:02:57 +0100

ATALAY, Afghanistan (AP) — Even as U.S. and British forces storm nearby
compounds looking for Taliban and al-Qaida fighters, American soldiers
draw a crowd of Afghans around a camouflage backpack set up in the dirt
streets of this remote farming village. 

With a press of a button, a pair of speakers built into the pack crackle
to life, and the villagers hear — in their native Pashto tongue — an
account of the destruction from the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the
United States. 

``It's just like advertising, like 'Buy Coca-Cola','' Maj. Patrick
Flanagan, of the 354 Tactical Psy-Ops Company from Bagram Air Base, said

Except the product that these marketers are selling to Afghans is the
American presence on their soil. 

Apart from accompanying combat troops, three-person psy-ops teams
circulate through the countryside in Humvees mounted with loudspeakers,
meeting village leaders and passing out leaflets. 

Their message is that coalition forces only want to help bring peace and
stability — and that Afghans should help by giving information on any
Taliban or al-Qaida activity in their villages. 

Sometimes the loudspeaker teams roll into town playing music by popular
Afghan singers to draw a crowd of villagers to whom they can then pass
their message. 

The music ``gets a real positive response. It's like the ice cream man
coming into town,'' said Capt. Al Armonda, who commands three psy-ops
teams. The Taliban had banned all music during its five-year rule. 

Winning goodwill is key. Taliban or al-Qaida fighters who have not fled
to neighboring Pakistan are thought to be hiding among local Afghan
populations, using villages as way stations or for weapons caches.
Convincing villagers that you're on their side can lead to important
intelligence, the teams say. 

Officials say Afghans have welcomed them. ``The response has been a very
positive feeling. They associate our being here with stability — so much
so that a lot of them fear that when we leave stability leaves as
well,'' Armonda said. 

But the hunt can also raise resentment. In Paktia province, near the
Pakistan border, residents have been angered by mistaken killings of
anti-Taliban Afghans. 

In May, U.S.-led forces raided two villages around the southern city of
Kandahar where Taliban were thought to be operating and took 82 people
into custody. All but five of those were later released. Angry villagers
denied any connection to the Taliban and some complained their women had
been tied up by American soldiers. 

U.S. officials denied any women were bound and said those released were
taken back to their homes. They said Taliban in the region are pushing
propaganda of their own, spreading stories of abuse. 

Flanagan said his teams try to prevent any ill feeling by telling
villagers what the raids are for. Sometimes after the raids, ``we'll go
back again to the village and explain what happened,'' he said. 

In Atalay, northwest of Kandahar, U.S. and British troops thundered in
on helicopters before dawn Thursday. They seized four farm compounds
without a shot fired and uncovered a suspected al-Qaida weapons cache. 

At nearly the same time, Sgt. Clint, a member of a psy-ops team, was out
with the loudspeaker backpack, warning villagers away from the action. 

``It gives us a way to address the masses and explain why we're coming,
that we mean them no harm and we're only looking for al-Qaida and
Taliban,'' Clint, who refused to identify himself further, said in

The teams don't only explain combat operations. They also pass on health
information, inform villagers when food or humanitarian aid is coming,
or when coalition doctors will be in the area to give immunizations and
other care, Flanagan said. 

Credibility is a priority. ``We're not brainwashing. We don't lie or put
out misinformation,'' he said, ``If you say 'Buy Coke' and Coke tastes
terrible, they're not going to buy it.'' 

And tailoring information to reach the audience isn't always easy. 

``It's as if a Martian came down and said someone attacked our place on
Mars and we're here to get them,'' Armonda said. ``It's not something
they connect with.'' 

Source:  Associated Press

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