Tactical Strategic Communication! Placing Informational Effect at the Centre of Command

Written by Cdr Steve Tatham, Royal Navy, imageTactical Strategic Communication!” (PDF, 192kb) is a necessary read for communities interested in strategic communication and the operations of our adversaries. Steve is a Director of Research at the UK Defense Academy and the author of Losing Arab Hearts and Minds: The Coalition, Al Jazeera and Muslim Public Opinion.

Tactical Strategic Communication!” describes how strategic communication must be holistic, agile, and awareness of both the adversary and the target audiences (related: Call Haji Shir Mohamad ASAP!). In a twist on the “guy in a cave” mantra popular on this side of the Pond, Steve notes how the Taliban transformed and adapted to their new environment:

The early years of the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan were not known for their press freedom. Technology was unwelcome, images of human beings considered apostate and world public opinion largely irrelevant to an organisation that actively sought to return afghan society to that of the Prophet Mohamed’s time. Yet the success of Al-Qaeda’s manipulation of the media in its global insurgency, and more latterly in its operations in Iraq, had not gone unnoticed.

Steve uses several examples and anecdotes to highlight his point that the Taliban became an effective information actor.

Whilst the increase and sophistication, of IEDs was the most obvious operational consequence of this synergy, another was clearly that of the media battle and by late 2006 the Taliban has formed its own media organization, modeled on al-Qaeda’s al-Sahab (The Clouds). The author’s study of that campaign, between December 2006 and Aug 2007 illustrated how that information space had slowly developed into a key component of their campaign, a surprising development demonstrating both a agility of mind and, perhaps more astonishing, a developed grasp of the role of information to their heavily outgunned insurgency. The campaign began in earnest in April 2007 when the Taliban stumbled across, by accident, an Al-Jazeera TV journalist. Initially unsure of what they should do with their captive, higher authorities directed that he be, to coin a coalition term, embedded with the Taliban. The result was a five part news series for the channel’s multi-million Arab and Islamic audience. One ‘episode’ was entitled ‘The People’s Movement’ and gave the first indication of a concerted Taliban ‘hearts and minds’ campaign. In that piece an (alleged) female afghan doctor declares her support for the Taliban, her bourqa conspicuously absent. That she is a doctor is ‘confirmed’ by the presence of a stethoscope in front of her as she speaks. Later, in the same episode, tribal elders speak with approval of the ‘peace and security’ that the Taliban had brought to their region19. That same series of news features also spoke of the importance with which the Taliban treated the safety of civilians, noting that coalition helicopters were never engaged over poppy fields lest they fall from the air and destroy the livelihood of the poppy farmers.

Read the whole thing here.