Thursday, January 26, 2006

Fourth-Generation Warfare, in Its Own Words


Conventional wisdom holds that the quality of U.S. human intelligence has fallen sharply since the end of the Cold War; we just don’t have the spies, the thinking goes, to discern enemy intentions and plans.

If an adversary feels forced to broadcast its mindset and intentions, though, the job of fighting it should become easier. This seems to be the case in Iraq, according to USA Today, which reported January 25 on the U.S. military’s use of insurgent propaganda videos as a training tool. Army Training and Doctrine Command has created a PowerPoint report for Army officers that helps explain the mindset and tactics insurgents use to attack U.S. forces:

"Insurgent videos have grown complex and sophisticated, with detailed graphics, English subtitles, English narrators, Jihadist 'humor,' and insults directed at the coalition to weaken (coalition forces') resolve and popular support," the report says. The document warns U.S. soldiers that "any non-media or not-CF (coalition forces) personnel with a camera should be considered suspicious."

The briefing is presented in the form of PowerPoint slides that have also been shown to soldiers already deployed in Iraq. It offers insights into insurgent tactics with the help of videos and photos taken by the insurgents themselves.

One shows an incident Aug. 10 when an Army supply truck passed a homemade road sign that concealed a bomb. In one image, the tractor-trailer is completely obscured by the fiery blast. The briefing warns that some roadside bombs are "victim activated," meaning that the motion of a passing vehicle sets off the explosive.

That bit about English subtitles and narrators is chilling—who are the insurgents recruiting that must be spoken to in a Western language?—but it’s more important that U.S. forces have a window into what the insurgents themselves consider their strongest propaganda points. Commentators speak despairingly of the Iraq insurgents as a “learning enemy,” but two can play at that game.

(Thanks as always to John Brown's Public Diplomacy Review for the initial item.)

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