U.S. radio broadcasts, pamphlets tell Afghans they aren't the enemy

Undermining bin Laden, rulers is propaganda aim

War On Terrorism : The World

October 16, 2001|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

Warning of everything from the evils of their current regime to the dangers of being hit by a food drop, U.S. forces are broadcasting appeals to Afghanistan's beleaguered citizenry to help America rid their country of Osama bin Laden's terrorist network and the Taliban government that shields it.

"Noble people of Afghanistan," begins one broadcast, beamed down from military aircraft that have been flying over the country since last week. "The Taliban has tarnished the name of your proud nation by making it a haven for criminals and terrorists. ... Their actions are bringing war to your homes. Is this what you want? Is this the kind of future you want for your children? Speak out! Stand up and let your voice be heard! Resist, and encourage your friends and neighbors to resist!"

The U.S. Defense Department yesterday released transcripts of the broadcasts and copies of leaflets being dropped as part of the psychological operations, or "PSYOPS," running in parallel to the bombing campaign initiated as retaliation for the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

In its messages, the U.S. stresses that the air strikes are targeting military sites and that the war is against the Taliban and bin Laden and not the Afghan people or their religion. While some broadcasts address the Taliban and their soldiers, encouraging them to surrender, the bulk of them speak to the Afghan people. One broadcast offers instructions on how not to be injured by food and medicine drops, and others stress how both Afghans and the Americans killed on Sept. 11 are victims of bin Laden and the Taliban.

The radio broadcasts are transmitted from aircraft flown by the 193rd Special Operations Wing, a Pennsylvania Air National Guard unit normally based in the Harrisburg, Pa., airport, and nicknamed "Commando Solo." They have provided similar broadcasts in previous conflicts, such as the Gulf War, where they were credited with convincing Iraqi soldiers to surrender.

In Afghanistan, they are broadcasting similar morale-busting messages.

"Attention Taliban!" one script says. "You are condemned. Did you know that? The instant the terrorists you support took over our planes, you sentenced yourselves to death. ... Our forces are armed with state of the art military equipment. What are you using, obsolete and ineffective weaponry? ... Our bombs are so accurate we can drop them right through your windows. Our infantry is trained for any climate and terrain on earth. United States soldiers fire with superior marksmanship and are armed with superior weapons."

The broadcasts, according to leaflets that are being dropped in parts of the country, can be heard on three frequencies, including one, 1107 megahertz, that in the past was used by Radio Voice of Shariah, the Taliban-controlled station in the capital city of Kabul.

The station was knocked out on the second day of air strikes and has not been heard from since, according to a BBC unit that monitors world media, although it continues to broadcast from the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif.

The leaflet, with drawings of a broadcast tower emitting radio waves and boomboxes picking them up, also carries information on the times of day to tune into "Information Radio."

"The Partnership of Nations is here to help," the caption on another leaflet says. On the reverse, "The Partnership of Nations is here to assist the people of Afghanistan."

Anthony R. Pratkanis, an expert on the use of propaganda, said the broadcasts and leaflets offer simple, digestible information at a time of great crisis for Afghans.

"It's a very difficult task to communicate to a highly illiterate population during a time of war when people are in a state of intense arousal," said Pratkanis, a psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. "The broadcasts are very straightforward and state in very specific terms how Afghan citizens can act to a) bring bin Laden to justice and b)stay out of harm's way. And they convey respect for the Afghan culture and their nation."

Broadcasts ask people not to assist either bin Laden or the Taliban, and caution them away from military installations and terrorist training camps. "Try to find ways to ignore the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's requests for help, and do not give them food or shelter," one script says.

The PSYOPS are part of the Bush administration's efforts to make sure that their message is reaching Muslims who might otherwise be swayed by bin Laden's call for a jihad against the West.

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, for example, are giving interviews to Al-Jazeera, the so-called CNN of the Arab world. In videotaped messages sent to the station, bin Laden and his spokesman have sought to depict the war as one against all Muslims.

"To the extent there are people out around the world actively trying to mislead populations into believing that this is about a race or a religion or a people, then they are not telling the truth, and we need to make darn sure that we're very clear on that," Rumsfeld said.

"The other folks don't function in free systems. They don't function with free press. They are trying to manipulate world opinion in a way that is advantageous to them and disadvantageous to us," he said. "And we need to do everything we can to make sure that the truth gets out."

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