Sunday, July 13, 2008

'A poster is worth 1000 bombs'

The Glasgow Herald has a report from Musa Qala, in Helmand province:

The Herald (Glasgow)
Battle to break the grip of Taliban terror in Musa Qala

July 14 - The power of the Taliban has always been made clear to the people of Musa Qala...

The Army took control of the town in December 2007, after overthrowing an estimated 2000 Talibs from its ravaged network of alleyways and crumbled compounds.

Now the ultimate aim is to win the townspeople over to a new way of life...

Captain Christian Howard is in charge of delivering these messages and is head of psychological operations - "psyops" - at Musa Qala district centre...

The first results of a survey to discover the attitudes of the people of Musa Qala were delivered back to Army commanders last week. While they showed growing approval for building projects in the town, the people showed less support for the town's governance. The British Army has a key role in shaping this governance, but how far the Musa Qala people link the two is unclear.

Walking through the streets of Musa Qala on Army patrol, it is apparent that the British are on a major charm offensive, albeit a heavily armed one.

The town bazaar falls strangely silent as the soldiers move through. Trading comes to a halt and the townspeople retreat under the canopies of their open-fronted shops. The stares are mainly hard and hostile, but the soldiers manage to juggle their security operation with an amiable show, waving and calling "salaam alaikum" (may peace be with you) and handing out sweets to some of the children. Some do wave and smile back.

Judging the "atmospherics" of the bazaar is a key purpose of the patrol. Today the hostility was judged to be about normal, with some signs of improvement.

Communicating with the Musa Qala people is difficult. Most have no basic literacy. Musa Qala FM has been set up to deliver news on Army activities and anti-Taliban messages. It is basically a propaganda machine, Captain Howard said, but is also one of a few tools available to reach out to the townspeople.

He wants people to get more involved, even get them requesting their favourite Islamic songs. He wants suggestions on what movies should be screened on film nights, but this is behaviour massively at odds with the core orthodox beliefs of the town, which for many years abided by the Taliban ban on entertainment.

"The films are mostly Bollywood, but watching people dancing is like watching porn to them. Musa Qala is as hardline as it gets." ...

Captain Howard hopes to expand his operation with a £25,000 budget to buy laptops, Dictaphones and printers and create an "information cell".

"How important will that be? I would say that one poster is worth 1000 bombs," he said... (link)
One wonders what Capt Howard's Master's degree thesis in military psychology might have looked like if he can entertain the charming calculus above. For the love of academia, I hope it wasn't entitled "The effect of 1000 bombs on civilian support for occupation forces".


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