Information and propaganda have always been vital in any war effort. Even the Romans were aware of this and leveraged it to their advantage. In the 21st Century, this is even more true, with digital technology increasing the reach of both.
The U.S. State Department is well aware of this as they establish a new unit focused on countering militant propaganda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Those with the purse strings are looking at proposals for spending up to $150 million annually on radio- and cell phone-based efforts aimed at countering anti-American propaganda, something we have not been very successful with so far.
Tom Shanker at The New York Times has a great column up on the subject, and makes no bones about the fact that the war of ideas is deemed of vital importance by our government:
“Concurrent with the insurgency is an information war,” said Richard C. Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, who will direct the effort. “We are losing that war.
“The Taliban have unrestricted, unchallenged access to the radio, which is the main means of communication,” he added. “We can’t succeed, however you define success, if we cede the airways to people who present themselves as false messengers of a prophet, which is what they do. And we need to combat it.”
The validity of radio is obvious to the State Department. Some of the funds, if they are allotted, will go towards the training of local journalists as well as expanding radio capabilities and cell phone access. By empowering local voices the goal is to move the dialogue from a stance of being between the U.S. and the insurgents to one between the local populace and the insurgents.
At the moment, low power radio stations that broadcast threats of violence if locals cooperate with the government or the U.S. are a main weapon in the arsenal of the militants. If the funding comes through, the battle will soon be joined on the airwaves.