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Thursday, 18 October, 2001, 12:34 GMT 13:34 UK
The battle for hearts and minds
Afghan refugees listening to radio
US forces are targeting Afghans through radio broadcasts
Alongside the bombs that have been unleashed on Afghanistan, thousands of leaflets have also been dropped by American forces. The battle for the enemy's hearts and minds is an age-old tactic in warfare.

For several days American bombs and bullets have rained down on Afghan soil. But in their bid to oust Taleban forces, US military commanders have also littered the ground with a weapon less brutal, but perhaps every bit as potent - leaflets.

Since the military offensive started more than a week ago, the Americans have dropped thousands of leaflets over Afghanistan in what is being called a battle for the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.

Leaflet dropped in Afghanistan
This American leaflet informs Afghans how to pick up US military broadcasts
The US is also believed to have dropped pocket-size windup radios into enemy territory, and it has begun broadcasts from flying radio stations.

In a country where people are told that America is the "Great Satan" the battle to win over public support is a key part of US military strategy.

This is the war of psychological operations, or "PsyOps" and it is one the US and many other countries have fought before.

The broad aim of any PsyOps campaign is to influence human attitudes and behaviour through communication. A more blunt definition might be: playing with people's minds.

Age-old tactic

As a tactic, it is almost as old as warfare itself. Genghis Khan is known to have used "agents of influence" to run ahead of his army warning of the cruelty and brutality they had just "witnessed".

D-Day landings
The Germans expected the D-Day landings to be nearer Calais
Modern-day PsyOps really took off during World War II. A master of mass psychology, Joseph Goebbels used modern forms of communication, such as radio and cinema, to purport virulent propaganda against the Jews.

But the Germans were tricked themselves. In one example, a dead body was washed up on a Spanish beach bearing papers which falsely indicated that the Allies intended to invade Europe by Greece. The act is said to have helped saved many lives.

In another campaign, the British used radio broadcasts to convince German commanders it would land troops in the Pas de Calais region of France, rather than the Normandy region 100 miles away.

But perhaps the most famous "face" of any PsyOps campaign belongs to the Japanese, who used an English speaking presenter nicknamed Tokyo Rose to broadcast music and words of discouragement to allied troops.

Across enemy lines

The rapid spread of radio in the first half of the 20th Century, added to the fact that broadcasts could be made across enemy lines, meant it became one of the most effective mediums for psychological operations.

Vietnam leaflet detail
A detail from one of America's leaflets dropped on Vietnam
By 1945 the Americas had come to realise the effectiveness of PsyOps and they have been a key role in military strategy in every conflict since.

In Korea and Vietnam, America used leaflets, radio broadcasts and loudspeakers, mounted to Jeeps and aircraft, to get their message across.

But finding the right way to convey a message, taking into account matters such literacy levels among the target audience, access to a radio and cultural sensibilities, can require skill and ingenuity.

Leaflets dropped by the Americans over Korea carried messages such as "good soldier-bad leaders", "surrender and you will be well-treated" and "we can crush you".

US leaflet dropped on Afghanistan
The leaflet talks of a "partnership of nations" to help Afghan people
One of the most notable and unusual examples of PsyOps came when American forces invaded Panama in the late 1980s in a bid to depose dictator Manuel Noriega.

Having isolated General Noriega to the Vatican embassy, where he had sought sanctuary, rangers proceeded to blast him with loud heavy metal and rap music. The idea was to deprive the general of sleep until he surrendered.

In the Gulf War, it was Iraqi troops staged in Kuwait who were the main target of America's PsyOps strategy. Over a seven-week period 29 million leaflets, of at least 14 types, were dropped, reaching approximately 98% of Iraqi soldiers. The PsyOps campaign was credited with getting many Iraqis to surrender.

In an echo of Japan's broadcasts during WWII, Iraq hit back with broadcasts to allied troops from a presenter who came to be known as Baghdad Betty.

US soldier in Mogadishu
US troops abandoned Somalia, but had set up a daily newspaper first
But the validity of their message was compromised somewhat by poor research, as evidenced by the claim that while troops were stationed in the Gulf their wives were at home sleeping with movie stars such as "Bart Simpson".

But while the Americans have put great emphasis on winning hearts and minds, British capabilities have been scaled down over the years.

Although the British used mind tactics successfully against the Mau Mau insurgency in Kenya, by employing witch doctors, by the time of the Falklands War in 1982 the military's PsyOps had been run down to one lieutenant colonel.

Considering the relative low cost of PsyOps and in a political environment where military spending has been subject to severe cut backs recently, maybe it is time Britain listened to the PsyOps propaganda.

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