A model strategic communication plan from where you wouldn’t expect it

One of the most famous aphorisms of Edward R. Murrow is his statement on the “last three feet”: The really crucial link in the international communication chain is the last three feet, which is bridged by personal contact, one person talking to another.  The importance of face-to-face, personal contact in counterinsurgency cannot be emphasized enough.  Engaging in this last three feet requires more than figuring out the right words and establishing a grammar to communicate with locals.  It means understanding we have a “say-do” gap (the propaganda of deeds versus the propaganda of words) that requires emphasizing actions over words and public and private pronouncements. 

TF134coverMarine Corps General Doug Stone, commander of Task Force 134, Detainee Operations, in Iraq has just signed off on a smart strategic communication plan that should be used as a model for other units.  It clearly communicates intent and provides guidance and has the buy-in of General Petraeus. 

It makes perfect sense to focus on detainee operations.  As Stone notes, “detainee operations is certainly a battlefield; it is the battlefield of the mind, and it is one of the most important fights in counterinsurgency.”  Besides the fact he has a captive audience, by definition, his charges have decided to take significant action against the Coalition.  For more on the operations of TF134, read this post

The primary audience and the primary target of the plan is the Task Force itself, which, as one reviewer noted, is a statement that the military culture still requires tweaking.  The challenge will be, according to another reviewer, translating the high-level guidance into action. 

The plan isn’t long, so if you’re at all interested, I suggest you read it.  To encourage that, excerpts from the Overview and Purpose are below the fold. 

From the Overview:

For our purposes as the counterinsurgent force, we will consider it an absolute imperative that our actions are fully congruent with the ideals that we promote. There can be no “gap” between what we say and what we do.

Leaders must understand the importance of this last statement; it is the keystone of our communication efforts. As the above passage from Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice makes clear, we have the responsibility as the counterinsurgent to “walk the walk” as well as we “talk the talk.” Our priorities and values must be displayed in every deed, and reflected in the actions of every man and woman serving in internment facilities throughout the Iraqi Theater of Operations.

What you will find here is far more than a collection of talking points or a series of taskings for the Public Affairs Office and Information Operations Cell. The doctrinal information functions of PA and IO certainly serve to support select aspects of our strategic communication initiatives, but they are not the main effort. Rather, this plan places the emphasis on the conduct of the individual service member to demonstrate who we are, what we do, and what we stand for. This point is critical to the ultimate success of the plan.

From the Purpose:

Winning a counterinsurgency requires gaining the support of the population. In the case of Iraq, defeating the insurgency means empowering moderates to marginalize the violent extremists. Detainee operations are a major front in that struggle because internment is, at its best, population engagement. …

This is the ultimate purpose of our strategic communication plan: Demonstrate to the citizens of Iraq and the greater Muslim Umma that we are dedicated to establishing an alliance with moderate Muslims and empowering them to marginalize violent extremists.

Faithful execution of this plan is critical to our success, and it is the duty of every leader within the task force to understand its purpose and apply its guidance. Each and every warrior in this command must understand that all we say and do will be judged by the peoples of the world, and it is our inherent responsibility to inform that judgment through the values demonstrated in our every action.

The Commanding General of TF 134, General Doug Stone, has ably demonstrated he gets the “battle of the mind” since assuming leadership of the Task Force.  With his tour up soon, where will the General’s go next?  Caldwell went to command the Army’s Combined Arms Center and oversaw the revision of FM3-0.  With Stone due for another star and an opening at Marine Corps U, maybe it’s stateside to craft new doctrine and train new leaders. 

By the way, the principal author of this plan was MAJ Matt Morgan

3 thoughts on “A model strategic communication plan from where you wouldn’t expect it

  1. “Detainee operation are a major front in that struggle because internment is, at its best population engagement.”WTFO?????????? OH NO.

  2. To be sure, nobody is advocating detaining people to engage them. These people are a self-selected bunch and the Task Force learned that many of them were fed misinformation about their religion, involved in the insurgency because it was the only gig in town, or some other not-hard-core-death-to-(insert name here).Further, how you treat your prisoners does get back to the general population. It affects your image as a humane alternative to the status quo.

  3. Wasta45: I’d be interested in any counterpoint to the thesis that Detainee Operations is, at its best, population engagement. If not, what would you say it is?I would also note here that this approach of engaging the population (a core tenet of counterinsurgency) is quite the oposite of the human warehousing that was taking place prior to the Spring of 2007… an approach that had led to riotous conditions within the Theater Iternment Facilities in Camps Bucca and Cropper.
    So do you disagree with the concept of COIN inside the wire, or is it some other aspect of the above statement with which you take issue?

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