Psychological Operations in Afghanistan

By  Herbert A. Friedman

Note: Portions of this article were featured in "Perspectives," the Journal of the Psychological Operations Association, Volume 14, Number 4, 2002. Portions of this article were used in the report “USAF Psychological Operations, 1990-2003,” by Dr. Daniel L. Haulman, 23 May 2003. Many of the images in this article were depicted in the 2012 Rand Corporation National Defense Research Institute monograph “U.S. Military Information Operations in Afghanistan - Effectiveness of Psychological Operations 2001–2010”. Permission was granted for the 10th PSYOP Battalion, the U.S. Army Center for Lessons learned, and the ISAF Combined Joint Psychological Operations Task Force to use this article as a reference source for training the Afghan Army and embellishing the conventional Afghan Information Dissemination Operations with more graphic content. Images from this article were used in "Three Practical Lessons from the Science of Influence Operations Message Design" by M. Afzal Upal, Canadian Military Journal, Volume 14, No 2, 2014. Images from this article were used by Matthew Wallin of the American Security Project in his 2015 “white paper” on U.S. Military public diplomacy entitled “Military Public Diplomacy: How the Military Influences Foreign Audience.” Douglas Little requested an image from this article for the cover of his book published by the University of North Carolina on the U.S. and the Middle East since 1989 entitled “Us vs. Them.” Alicia Cunningham-Bryant requested several images from this article for Temple University's Intellectual Heritage program to illustrate the impact the imagery of War Rugs had on the Afghans and the art form. Author Debi Cornwall requested the use of some of images in this article for her book “Beyond Gitmo: On the Legacy of Guant√°namo Bay.” Images from this article were used by CGTN (China Global Television Network) a 24-hour English news channel, of China Central Television (CCTV), based in Beijing. Permission was granted to use images from this article to the German online satire encyclopedia “Stupidedia.” This article was heavily referenced in the book “Taliban Narratives, The use and Power of Stories in the Afghanistan Conflict,” by Thomas H. Johnson, with Matthew DuPee and Wali Shaaker, Oxford University Press, 2017. An Iranian University group of students in Tehran from the Persian-language “Scrooge Podcast” broadcast a story titled “History of Psychological Warfare” and used leaflets from this article as illustrations.

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This article is the history of psychological operations (PSYOP) in Afghanistan for the first seven months during the heavy combat phase of the invasion and occupation after the attack on the New York City World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Although almost all of these leaflets are in full color, in many cases they also exist in black and white and on various grades of paper. Poorly cut specimens are common. Much of the printing work uses digital presses; so printing plates are not required. Printed leaflets are forwarded to the regional battalion in the field for dropping. When higher headquarters requests samples of such leaflets, reprints are often printed based on what data can be determined from the regional battalion. As a result, official reference leaflets may appear slightly different from those that were dropped. Know also that excellent facsimiles exist and we have already seen fake color photocopies of a dozen leaflets offered in the marketplace. Let the buyer beware! 

I should also point out that we show only a very small percentage of the total number of leaflets and posters printed and disseminated in Afghanistan. In general, we attempt to add a translation to every leaflet we depict, and in cases like Operation Iraqi Freedom that is not difficult since there are many Arabic speakers who are willing to translate text. In the case of Operation Enduring Freedom, the number of Pashto and Dari speakers in the United States is rather small and it is extremely difficult to translate the text on the hundreds of leaflets and posters we have accumulated. We have attempted to depict a nice mix of themes, but the reader should understand that this is just a small number of the total pieces we could show.

We should mention a brief word about the terminology in this article. The attempt to win the hearts and minds of friends and enemies was first called “Propaganda” (from the Catholic Church - Congregatio de propaganda fide), and later changed to “psychological warfare” (PSYWAR) about 1920. The term was changed to “psychological operations” (PSYOP) about 1945, although it did not gain popularity until about 1960 when it became clear that many of the influence operations like asking the people to support a new national government took place during peacetime. The Army then experimented with the term “information operations” (IO) about 2003 which started to blur the lines between PSYOP, military deception, operational security, electronic warfare and computer networks operations. In 2010, the military decided on the term “military information support operations” (MISO). It is important to remember that no matter what we call the art of influencing the enemy, the methods used and the personnel involved really do not change. For the purposes of this article we will use the term PSYOP. In future articles I suspect we will be forced to use the term MISO, unless the military decides to make another change.

Note: I started writing this article in 2001 and finished it shortly afterwards. In July of 2006 I came across a very concise United States Army War College research paper entitled “Information Operations” by Peter L. Burnett Jr.   The “Psychological Operations” paragraph explained PSYOP in Afghanistan with such clarity that I add it here:

During the initial attack against Afghanistan, the Afghan people’s views of America were negative primarily due to a lack of knowledge the people possessed regarding the attack. The Taliban government and the leadership of al-Qaida tried to convince the people of Afghanistan that America was attacking the religious faith of the Afghan nation. The Taliban government and the al-Qaida network’s goal was to gain support of the Afghan population, the political will of the people, and to promote hatred toward any American effort in Afghanistan. Using PSYOP as a tool, America was able to reach the people through leaflets, food, broadcast coordination, use of coalition forces, and good deeds to prove America was not attacking their religious faith, but was attacking terrorist activities. The PSYOP efforts cast a brighter light regarding America’s efforts in Afghanistan regardless of America’s efforts or explanation. No country wants to be attacked, but the PSYOP efforts have paid off and proven to be an effective measure in America’s efforts against terrorism.

On 11 September, 2001, terrorists of the al-Qaida (the Base) group, some trained and financed by Saudi Arabian exile-in-hiding Osama bin Laden, attacked the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington DC. Bin Laden was a long-time terrorist who was known under such alias as Osama bin Muhammad bin Laden, Usama bin Laden, the Prince, the Emir, Abu Abdallah, Mjhahid Shaykh, Hajj, the Director, the Contractor, and still more names. In response to the terrorist attacks, the United States launched the Global War on Terrorism. 

On 12 September, the day following the attack, Tactical PSYOP Detachment (TPD) 940 began target audience analysis of Afghanistan, including the Afghan populace, the Taliban, and al Qaida. On 4 October 2001 a 95-man Joint Psychological Operations Task Force (JPOTF) was activated at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and placed under the operational control of the Central Command (CENTCOM). The 3rd Psychological Operations battalion deployed to Kuwait that same month to support Operation Enduring Freedom. 

The primary PSYOP objectives were to shift the debate from Islam to terrorism and to counter adversarial propaganda; to discourage interference with humanitarian affairs activities; to support objectives against state and non-state supporters and sponsors of terrorism and to disrupt support for and relationships of terrorist organizations. Leaflets and radio scripts were prepared.

This is discussed in some depth in FM 3-05.301, Psychological Operations Process Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures, August 2007:

During the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom, the United States Central Command helped attached PSYOP planners from the 4th PSYOP Group to grant the authorization to officially organize the 8th PSYOP Battalion to become the PSYOP Task Force in direct support of the Central Command commander…The POTF’s print assets were stationed initially at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. This necessitated printing the leaflets and recording the radio messages at Fort Bragg, then distributing these messages to forward locations. Roughly 70 days after 11 September 2001, the Central Command commander received authority to approve PSYOP products. This action resulted in a previous PSYOP product approval staffing process of several weeks being reduced to as little as 24 hours.

U.S. Army Special Forces and, later, other coalition forces were inserted in northern Afghanistan. There was great concern at this time that the U.S. and coalition forces not be viewed by the Afghan people as just another invading force like the Soviets in the 1980s. PSYOP planners crafted their first Psychological Operations objective to “Reduce the effectiveness of Taliban and al-Qaida forces in Afghanistan.” Supporting arguments were:

(1) The forces of al-Qaida are not Afghan—they are foreign invaders.

(2) al-Qaida has empowered the Taliban to oppress the people of Afghanistan into doing what al- Qaida wants the people of Afghanistan to do.

(3) Mullah Omar and other Taliban leaders are merely puppets controlled by al-Qaida.

(4) Coalition forces are here to help the people of Afghanistan establish a government for Afghanistan run by the people of Afghanistan—not by foreign invaders.

(5) The United States and coalition forces have delivered thousands of tons of food and aid supplies to the people of Afghanistan. What have the Taliban and al-Qaida done to help the people of Afghanistan?

PSYOP Leadership and Training Booklets

Former Sergeant First Class Steven porter, then the Operations (S3) NCOIC of the 7th PSYOP Group, told me about working on the Leader's book:

The PSYOP Leaderís Book was introduced by 7th PSYOP Group to bridge the information gap created by ever changing doctrine, TTPs, and the lack of necessary training time to master and memorize all the skills required of deploying Tactical PSYOP Teams and detachments. The handbook fit in the chest or arm pocket and provided a quick reference on PSYOP, shoot, move, and communicate tasks.

In the years when Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom were being planned and put into motion, new PSYOP leadership and training booklets were written and distributed. Between 2003 and 2005 several booklets appeared. The first one above is the Psychological Operations PSYOP Leaderís Book. It is 35 pages, well-illustrated, and has 27 chapters on subjects like: PSYOP capabilities brief; PSYOP missions; and Target audience analysis.

The second booklet is the Tactical PSYOP Team Leader Book. It is 25 pages, with some illustrations, and has 18 chapters on subjects like: The PSYOP interview; The PSYOP Annex; and Radio reporting formats.

Doctrine for Joint Psychological Operations
Joint Publication 3-53

The first two booklets are small and very concise. The third booklet is a more detailed publication. It has seven chapters, an appendix, Glossary, and numerous figures. Some of the chapters are: Psychological Operation: an Overview; Psychological Operation Planning in Support of the Joint Force Campaign; and Psychological Operation Enablers. 

Just two days before the start of combat operations on 5 October 2001, EC–130 Commando Solo aircraft began to transmit radio broadcasts to Afghanistan. The first B-52 leaflets from Diego Garcia were dropped on 14 October 2001, almost a week after combat operations began.

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Leaflet AFD-184

This is an interesting leaflet because it shows a smiling and waving Afghan child on the front and three wanted terrorists on the back; and what might be a bombed-out cave system. 160,000 AFD-184 leaflets were produced at Ft Bragg, forwarded to Afghanistan, and disseminated by M129 leaflet bombs in the first year of the war. The title of the leaflet was simply “This child deserves…” The text on the front and back is:

This child deserves a hopeful and good life.

Not a fearful and oppressed life.

Osama bin Laden - Ayman al-Zawahiri - Mullah Omar.

Report Terrorist Activities.

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World Trade Center Leaflet AFD-189

Early in the war many Americans clamored for a leaflet showing the burning World Trade Center to explain to the Afghans why the United States had attacked the terrorist al-Qaida faction and Taliban forces ruling their nation. The Central Command stated that they would not produce a leaflet showing the burning building because the "third-world" Afghans would not understand the concept of the "skyscraper," and it might cause a loss in the believe of the honesty of all Coalition leaflets. Such a leaflet was eventually produced near the end of the war. It seems clear than any people, regardless of their situation, would understand the American desire for retribution after seeing this leaflet. The text on the front and the back of this leaflet is:

20th September, 1380. World Trade Center

The Coalition Forces came to arrest those responsible for the terrorism against America.  They also come to arrest anyone that protects them.

More than 3,000 people in the United States of America were murdered in these attacks.

[Note: the date is obviously using the Persian Calendar].

The Rand Corporation monograph U.S. Military Information Operations in Afghanistan - Effectiveness of Psychological Operations 2001-2012 agrees with the military assessment. It says that most Afghan viewers would not understand the images on the screen of airplanes exploding into tall, glittering buildings. A proper target-audience analysis would have revealed that most rural Pashtun audiences had never seen a skyscraper and could not associate the drawings or photographs of the World Trade Center with buildings full of people. The target audience had never seen a jet airliner, either and did not realize that those planes were also full of innocent civilians. Most Afghans had never seen a television set, and certainly has no knowledge of New York City. Rand implied that the leaflet was ineffective.

One of the most profound tools the Civil Affairs/PSYOP group shared with the Afghans was a video that the group played for villagers on a laptop or portable digital video camera. The video was a compilation of scenes from the events of September 11, 2001, and the days following, with a Pashtun narrative explaining what happened. This proved to be the one thing the Afghans were interested in the most. None of them knew what had happened, and upon seeing the video, they understood and further supported our presence in Afghanistan. The video helped further their dislike of the Taliban and Al Qaida, and support for U.S. forces in Afghanistan grew.

The International Council on Security and Development in 2010 indicated that 90% of men in Helmand and Kandahar provinces did not see a link between the 9/11 attacks and the American invasion of Afghanistan. While a slight majority of those questioned could recognize photos of the World Trade center being struck by aircraft, they could not connect it to the 9/11 attacks or the justification for the military entry into Afghanistan.

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World Trade Center Poster AFC025

An 11 x 17-inch poster was produced in Pastun and Dari that depicted a similar picture of the World Trade Center attack, perhaps a few seconds later than the leaflet image, with a greater fireball. The poster is coded AFC025.The text is:

On September 11, 2001…

2823 people were killed.

4300 children lost their family members [father or/and mothers].

The Al-Qaida terrorists hijacked local airplanes filled with passengers and struck the World Trade Center in New York City.

The coalition forces are searching for Al Qaida members to punish them for what they have done.

Why the United States is in Afghanistan Ė [Coalition PSYOP Film]

At the start of Operation Enduring Freedom there was a lot of talk about whether the people of Afghanistan knew why the United States had come to their country. This short 3-minute film explains to the people of Afghanistan why the Americans came and starts with the attack on the Twin Towers in New York City. The narrator explains that al Qaida terrorists backed by the Taliban attacked women and children. We hear the voices of some of the victims and survivors including a Muslim man. The fact that there were almost 2,000 victims is mentioned while we see a wall with pictures of family members and a graveyard. All the time sad Arabic music is playing. At the end we are told that the mission is now one of peace. Food is shown being unloaded, the people are told there is no more iron rule of the Taliban they may worship as they like and the country is free to prosper.

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World Trade Center Leaflet AFD-22b

Although there is no evidence that the leaflet was ever disseminated, a leaflet coded AFD22b depicted the burning World Trade Center at the left and Afghan ruins at the right. The text is:

Foreign Terrorists do not believe in any borders
New YorkU.S.A.      Harat -Afghanstan

The back depicted Afghan and Coalition friends together and two hands shaking, similar to the “Friendship” leaflet AFD030b below. Notice that the Afghanistan flag incorrectly has the stripes in horizontal rather than vertical format, and this could be the reason the leaflet was not disseminated.

We share food together. We regain our honor and dignity and maintain it.

Rand thought this leaflet was effective, mostly because the two hands clasping was the same symbol previously as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) symbol in the late 1960s and 1970s. The Afghans related this symbol with US aid and friendship.

The United States also explained the reason for the bombings and the American invasion over their propaganda radio. One of the messages was:

Dear Afghanistan,

A grave crime has been committed against the United States. Four of our planes have been hijacked, several building in our economic centers destroyed and more than 6,000 innocent people, hundreds of which were Muslim were murdered by the hand of Osama bin Laden, Al Qaida, his supporters, and the Taliban. We see these actions as acts of war. We will not sit idly by and do nothing in these times. However, we do not wish to spill the blood of innocent people, as did the cowardly terrorists. We do not blame the Muslims or Afghans for these attacks. We do not hold those who follow true Islam responsible. We will hunt down and punish these terrorists. They will pay with their blood. America is not against the beliefs of Islam, nor is it against Muslims. More than 6 million Muslims live and worship Allah in peace in the United States, a number equal to almost half the population of Afghanistan. In the United States people of all religions live side by side in peace. Muslims living in America have the same rights to worship as any other citizen of any other religion.

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Leaflet drop over Afghanistan

A 2005 Review of Psychological Operations Lessons learned from Recent Operational Experiences points out that there was much more supervision of leaflet themes in Afghanistan. For instance, during Operation Desert Storm there were a dozen different threatening leaflets depicting the B-52 bomber. Heavy bombers have always been a staple of American psychological warfare. It is surprising to see that no such leaflet depicting a B-52 bomber was produced for Afghanistan. Higher echelons decided that the Afghans might see it as an act of revenge for the 9/11 attack and a threat to decimate their population and misunderstand the fact that the Coalition’s war was only against terrorism. The national-level guidance that was approved and disseminated the day that operations began made clear that the U.S. response in Afghanistan would protect, not target, innocent people and that there was no cause that would justify purposeful targeting of the civilian population. In fact, at one time the Coalition had considered courting the Taliban as well as the general population, attempting to drive a wedge between the two parties by portraying al Qaida as foreign interlopers who manipulated the Taliban. However, when it became clear that the Taliban were dedicated fundamentalists that would not surrender in any number, they became a PSYOP target.

President Bush immediately demanded that the ruling fundamentalist Islamic Taliban movement of Afghanistan turn over Mr. bin Laden for trial. President Bush declared a war on terrorism and stated that they would be found and attacked regardless of where they were hiding. The operation was originally named "Infinite Justice," but was altered when it was discovered that Islam reserved infinite judgment for Allah. The name was immediately changed to "Enduring Freedom." Political correctness at its best. Iran, in its usual anti-American posture remarked that the operation should be called “Infinite Imperialism.”

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The Secretary of Defense implies that Saddam Hussein is a Foolish Man.

A week after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, President Bush said in an unscripted moment:

This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while.

There was an immediate uproar from Muslims around the word who still thought of the Crusade as a Christian attack on their faith. President Bush then went to great pains to remove all traces of a religious crusade in his comments on the war on terror. However, in 2003 Biblical sayings were placed on the Department of Defense top secret Worldwide Intelligence Update military intelligence reports. The decision to put the biblical quotations on the cover pages was allegedly taken by Major General Glen Shaffer, a director for intelligence serving both Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Some of the comments with patriotic pictures of American soldiers at war or at prayer were:

Their arrows are sharp, all their bows are strung; their horses’ hoofs seem like flint, their chariot wheels are like a whirlwind.

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.

Pentagon officials were concerned that, if the cover sheets were ever leaked, they could be interpreted as a suggestion that the war was religiously driven, a battle against Islam. It did not help matters in 2005 when the Pentagon’s inspector general recommended “corrective action” against Lieutenant General William G. Boykin, the Deputy Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence who likened the war against Islamic militants to a battle against Satan.

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Is this a “Jesus” Gun-sight?

The story of Biblical quotations used by Americans was thought to be over but in February 2011, it was discovered that the same sort of quotations were being placed on some American weapons. US gun-sights were found with inscriptions with biblical references that might lead some to believe that Americans are using “Jesus weapons” against Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The inscriptions apparently do not break military rules on proselytizing because the equipment is not distributed beyond the troops who are actually using them. Trijicon makes the sights and their director of sales and marketing told Associated Press:

We don’t publicize this. It’s not something we make a big deal out of. But yes, it’s there.

According to an American Broadcasting Corporation report, one of the citations on the gun sights, “2COR4:6,” is an apparent reference to Second Corinthians 4:6 of the New Testament, which reads:

For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Other references include citations from the books of Revelation, Matthew and John dealing with Jesus as “the light of the world.”

John 8:12, referred to on the gun sights as JN8:12, reads,

Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life

This need to place Biblical quotations on American military items is very disturbing and certainly does nothing to win trust among the Muslim nations of the world.

Perhaps we should stop for a moment to discuss the Taliban (sometimes spelled "Taleban"). The Taliban (“the Seekers”) was formed in September of 1994 in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar by a group of graduates of Pakistani Islamic colleges on the border with Afghanistan, run by the fundamentalist Jamiat-e-Ulema. The members were mostly Pashtuns from Kandahar in Southern Afghanistan and were led by the religious leader Mullah Mohammad Omar. Their fighting ranks were mostly filled with former veterans of the war against the Soviets. They fought against the government of Afghanistan and on 27 September 1996 they captured Kabul. By June 1997, the Taliban effectively controlled two-thirds of the country.

The Taliban applied a strict interpretation of Sharia, enforcement of which was administered by the “Department for Promoting Virtue and Preventing Vice.” Individuals were beaten on the streets by Taliban militia for what were deemed infractions of Taliban rules concerning dress, hair length, and facial hair, as well as for restriction on women being in the company of men. For an example of how PSYOP tried to take advantage of these Taliban activities, see leaflet AFD24 below.

The bombing of Afghanistan began on October 7. Along with the bombing, the United States Air Force also dropped food packets for the Afghan refugees. Aerial propaganda leaflets were not dropped the first week due to high winds. The first leaflet drop took place on October 15, coordinated with Coalition radio broadcasts. EC-130-E Command Solo aircraft from the 193rd Special Operations Wing flying out of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, broadcast to the Afghan people. The modified C-130 can broadcast radio or TV signals - AM, FM and HF. It broadcasts across the band from 45 kilohertz to 1000 megahertz.

On October 15, the United States government released illustrations of the first two leaflets dropped on Afghanistan. It reported that a single B-52 Stratofortress bomber had dropped 385,000 leaflets over the eastern town of Ghazni, the northwestern town of Sheberghan, and between Sheberghan and the western city of Herat.  

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The first leaflet depicts an American soldier shaking hands with an Afghan citizen. The photograph is in full color, the text in bright blue. The leaflet was written in Pashto (spoken by the Afghan ethnic majority Pashtun) and Dari (a Persian dialect spoken by the minority Tajiks). The leaflet states on the front:

The partnership of nations is here to help.

The back of the leaflet says:

The partnership of nations is here to assist the people of Afghanistan.

2,760,000 copies of this leaflet were disseminated by M129 leaflet bombs in the first year of the war.

The Rand monograph found this leaflet to be effective because the Afghans were war-weary, disillusioned with the Taliban regime, and ready for change. They hoped that the U.S. intervention would bring peace, progress, and security to Afghanistan.

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The second leaflet depicts a radio tower and two radios. Text is identical on both sides in Pashto and Dari. The leaflet states:

Information radio.
0500-1000. 1700-2200 daily.
864, 1107, 8700 kilohertz.

The leaflet tells the Afghan finder what radio stations to dial in order to hear the latest news from the coalition forces. Part of the PSYOP plan was to tell the Afghan people why their country was being bombed. The radio broadcasts stress that this is simply a war against terrorism and not against the people of Afghanistan. The Taliban's main Kabul radio station, Voice of Sharia, ("Islamic Law"), was taken off the air by an American cruise missile several days earlier. AFD-06 is found in both color and black and white. There is a variation of this leaflet coded AFD-06c. 7,931,000 copies of this leaflet were disseminated by M129 leaflet bombs in the first year of the war. These leaflets were also handed out by Tactical PSYOP teams on the ground. I am not going to list all of these operations because it would take another article. Suffice it to say that on one operation 32,036 copies of leaflet AFD06 were handed out in Herat.

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Navy specialist prepares leaflet AFD06 into
propaganda bomb rolls aboard USS Constellation.

P.W. Singer discusses the Taliban radio station in Analysis Paper No. 5, “American’s Response to Terrorism,” Winning the War of Words: Information Warfare in Afghanistan:

These Taliban broadcasts continually stressed that the one rallying point in Afghan history has been for the various tribes to join to throw out invaders, from the Persians and the British, to most recently the Soviets. The Taliban's broadcasts painted US demands on their country as falling in line with this long procession of outsiders attempting to interfere in their own local matters. The dominant message was that the US was yet another imperial power targeting Afghanistan.

There is a lot of published information about the production of these radio leaflets. Weapon of Choice, ARSOF in Afghanistan, Charles H. Briscoe, Richard L. Kiper, James A. Schroeder, and Kalev I Sepp, authors, Combat studies Institute Press, Fort Leavenworth, KS 2003 says:

Whether it was a leaflet offering a monetary reward, providing a radio listening frequency, extolling the new government, or warning about land mines, the 30 million leaflets 2nd Platoon, A Company, 3rd POB, printed were a significant contribution to the global war on terrorism

When radio broadcasts by the Air Force EC- 130 Commando Solo aircraft became possible, Donovan's [PSYOP squad leader] squad printed handbills that ground units could distribute to villages. The handbills depicted a radio tower and had various frequencies for music and news.

The New York Times stated that a leaflet with a similar message had been dropped to explain to the Afghan people why they were being bombed. The leaflet said, "On September 11th, the United States was the target of terrorist attacks, leaving no choice but to seek justice for these horrible crimes."

A Good Propaganda Theme is Universal

During the Vietnam War the United States dropped propaganda leaflets on the Viet Cong showing them happily farming or lying dead in the jungle. Some said, "Which will you choose," others said, "Two paths." The concept was peace or war, life, or death. We see the Soviets using the exact same propaganda in Afghanistan. An Afghan "Freedom fighter" thinks of being a peaceful member of the new Afghan state or being just another forgotten skull in a pile.

Before we leave the subject of U.S. radio messages to Afghanistan we should discuss the early history of the propaganda broadcasts. According to Richard H. Cummings, formerly of Radio Free Europe, after the Soviet Union attacked Afghanistan in 1979, Radio Free Europe (RFE) and Radio Liberty (RL), the American financed stations in Munich, Germany, expanded its broadcasting from just Eastern Europe and the USSR. On 1 October 1985, the station began broadcasting to Afghanistan in Dari, one of the major languages in Afghanistan.  Radio Free Afghanistan broadcast 30-minute Dari-language programs twice weekly. In 1986, it expanded its broadcasting to one hour daily, five days a week.  A Pashto-language broadcast was added in September 1987. The Soviet Union retreated from Afghanistan on 15 February 1989, with an estimated loss of 15,000 troops. With the end of the Soviet invasion, Radio Free Afghanistan broadcast its last program on 19 October 1993.

Programs to Afghanistan were resumed in December 2001 as part of the post-September 11 “War on Terror.” On 30 January 2002, RFE/RL, now located in Prague, Czech Republic, began broadcasting to Afghanistan in the Dari and Pashto languages. Radio Free Afghanistan (“Radio Azadi”) broadcast 12 hours a day on FM radio from Kabul, Herat, Jalalabad, Mazar-e-Sharif, and Kandahar.   The broadcasts can be heard on short wave, medium wave, and satellite radio and also on demand via the Internet.

An Army psychological specialist and a Marine load master watch leaflets
fall off of a KC-130 Super Hercules over southern Afghanistan, Aug. 28, 2013.
(Sgt. Demetrius Munnerlyn/Marine Corps)

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Leaflet AFD03a

This is a very impressive leaflet and image. The front of the leaflet depicts Osama bin Laden at the left and an American B-52 dropping bombs at the right. The text is:

There is no possibility of escape and hiding.

The back shows an Afghan valley with a flight of B-52 bombers overhead at the right; the left shows the result of the bombing, the valley covered with smoke and destruction. The text is:

If you resist, you will also suffer the same fate.

The top line on each side is in Dari, the bottom line in Pashtu. These leaflets may not have been disseminated. One year after the American invasion I find no record of their being distributed.

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The United States produced a full color leaflet that told the people of Afghanistan that there were American Muslims, American mosques, and that true believers had the right to practice their religion and worship their God. The leaflet is coded AFD04. The front of the leaflet shows a mosque in the foreground with the Stars and Stripes within a map of the United States. Muslim men and women are depicted worshipping at the right. The text is:

Muslims in the United States worship freely.

The back of the leaflet depicts the inside of the Islamic Center of Long Island mosque at the left, and a crescent moon and text at the right. The text is:

There are more than 7 million Muslims and 1200 mosques in the US.

CENTCOM has issued no data on when and where this leaflet was distributed. There are an estimated seven million Muslims in America and some 1.2 billion worldwide.

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Leaflet AFD11

A similar leaflet coded AFD11a depicted American Muslims at prayer and a green crescent with the text:

Muslims live and practice in peace in America.

The back depicts a map of the United States filled with various mosques and a green crescent. There is no text. 900,000 copies of the AFD-11a leaflet were disseminated by M129 leaflet bombs in the first year of the war.

An October 17 report stated that leaflets had been dropped showing pictures of food parcels and explaining how the contents should be consumed. For instance, there is a drawing showing how a tube of peanut butter should be squeezed.

Meanwhile, the Taliban responded by telling the Afghan people that the U.S. meals airdropped to Afghans did not meet the dietary requirements of observing Muslims.

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Afghans listening to the Coalition broadcasts

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Kaito Radio

That same day, it was reported that small battery-powered portable radios were dropped to those without radios or electricity. Initially, several thousand KAITO brand portable radios were distributed by hand. The KAITO was a 220-volt AC radio that was battery, solar and crank (dynamo) powered. It was usable for people who lived in central Afghanistan with no electric power. AM and FM radio was only available in cities. In rural areas the people relied on SW radio. Cost was low for quantity purchased and the power source was the prime requirement. The sensitivity and selectivity were poor, and required a very strong signal to work. It was not successful in the mountainous countryside of Afghanistan.

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A local Afghan elder is excited to receive his new radio from an 8th PSYOP Battalion member attached to the U.S. Army 4th Infantry Division in Malajat, Afghanistan. The purpose of the mission is to gather information from the local population and to distribute Psychological Operations products.

Under the Taliban, possession of a radio was a crime, and thus few were available. More than 7,500 small battery-powered transistor radios were distributed by airdrop and by tactical PSYOP teams operating with Special Forces detachments.

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The Freeplay Plus Radio

A military report entitled PSYOP Radio in Afghanistan adds in part:

The US military is air-dropping Freeplay wind-up radios among the Afghan people. Unlike the Freeplay Plus Radio we offer, which has the AM, FM and most of the short wave spectrum, these specially designed Freeplay radios are locked on a frequency that automatically tunes in US military broadcasts. With these radios, Afghans will know about aid facilities in their area as well as food drops. They'll also hear messages like the one below, assuring them of the US intentions in Afghanistan, and that we're there to help them.  

Curiously, the message seems to be the same one that we mention above dropped on a leaflet. Part of the radio message is:

On September 11th, the United States was the target of terrorist attacks, leaving no choice but to seek justice for these horrible crimes. We are here to take measures against the terrorists that have rooted themselves in your country. It is not you, the honorable people of Afghanistan, who are targeted, but those who would oppress you, seek to bend you to their own will, and make you their slaves.

It will take the combined efforts of the international community and you to remove these evil people from Afghanistan. Take the following action: Do not give food, shelter, or any type of aid to the Taliban or Osama bin Laden. This will be a great help in the effort. We have no wish to hurt you, the innocent people of Afghanistan. Stay away from military installations, government buildings, terrorist camps, roads, factories, or bridges. If you are near these places, then you must move away from them. Seek a safe place, and stay well away from anything that might be a target. We do not wish to harm you.

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A local Afghan citizen reads a flyer handed to him by soldiers assigned to the 10th Psychological Operations Battalion, during a mission to Kuchi village, Afghanistan, May 27, 2011. The purpose of the mission was to distribute radios and flyers to local villagers, and to evaluate the needs of the locals.

There was a recommendation to use the Grundig FR220 radio. It worked well in the mountainous terrain and was battery and dynamo powered. The 10th Mountain Division psychological operations officer headed the purchase of 100,000 FR200 Grundig Emergency Radios for Coalition Joint Task Force (CJTF) 180 to be delivered to Bagram, Afghanistan, between November 2003 and February 2004. Over 30,000 Grundig radios had been distributed by the time he left Afghanistan in April 2004.  In addition, before leaving Afghanistan he provided the Multi-National Corps - Iraq (MNC-I) Information Operations (IO) Cell with instructions for purchasing Grundig Radios for distribution in Iraq.  The CJTF-76 (formerly CJTF-180) IO Cell has been in talks with the Eton Corporation to purchase an additional 150,000 Grundig radios. 

For a while the Americans dropped the WR-004 "World Receiver" AM, FM and short wave radio produced by the STL Group in the Netherlands under the brand name "Super Tech." They were dropped with the batteries already in the radio. The inability of the Afghans to replace the batteries was a liability. The British apparently dropped crank-powered radios at the same time. Broadcasts that same day told the people where to find the yellow cartons containing food dropped by American aircraft.

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Passing out radios

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WorldSpace WSSR-11Digital Receiver

During a spring of 2004 visit to Fort Bragg I was able to confirm that the US Army did indeed distribute radios to the people of Afghanistan so that they could hear the latest news from the Coalition powers. I also learned that the radios now being disseminated are Worldspace model WSSR-11Digital receivers. They are battery-powered and allow the listener to access over 40 satellite radio services from around the world. Each radio comes with a directional line-of sight antenna. The service uses three satellites, AmeriStar, AfriStar, and Asia Star. These new radios were not without problems. They were given to Afghans selected as "key communicators." The problem was a lack of Pashto or Dari radio broadcasts on the satellites. The best broadcasts were still coming from the British Broadcasting Corporation, the Voice of America, or the local PSYOP radio stations. Many Afghans were happier with the cheaper Kaito radio because they could get all the local stations in their own language.

If I may jump ahead for a moment, NATO distributed more than 700,000 radios in the first half of 2006. The NATO Consultation, Command and Control Agency announced that eligible firms were invited to provide bids on a Psychological Operations Radio Network for the International Security Assistance Force. Some members within the PSYOP community were shocked to see the system called a “PSYOP Radio Network.” That seems to defeat the purpose of using the radio for truthful and unbiased news. It is important to remember the availability of radio stations in Afghanistan. The US military broadcasts on short wave, the U.S. Embassy uses 23 host nation stations, and of course there is the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Voice of America. The announced goal of the PSYOPS network was to create a supporting atmosphere among the Afghan leadership and population in support of the objectives of the ISAF mission. The new radio network would receive a central program from Kabul and re-broadcast it locally to Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) regions. PSYOPS transmitters located at the PRT's would extend the PSYOPS radio network to the southern and eastern region of Afghanistan. Capability would be operational within the commercial FM band from 87.5 to 107.0 MHz.

The Department of Defense says about satellite radio in a May 2000 report: The Creation and Dissemination of All Forms of Information in Support of Psychological Operations (PSYOP) in Time of Military Conflict

The WorldSpace system is fully digital and transmits a number of stations simultaneously in the L-band. Since the WorldSpace system is fully digital, it will convey data in addition to the audio streams. Satellite TV and radio poses two distinct problems for U.S. PSYOP. A narrow, technical problem is that U.S. forces have no available means to disseminate their PSYOP content to households that rely upon satellite services. In particular, the Commando Solo aircraft cannot provide this function for the variety reasons. First, the media encodings are digital, and sometimes proprietary, and often encrypted. Thus, they cannot be serviced by Commando Solo's current transmission suite. Second, the receivers employ satellite dishes pointed to specific slots in geosynchronous orbits. It will not be easy for a platform such as Commando Solo to transmit in such a way that it can be received in these dishes. Third, the satellite systems operate on a variety of bands (L, C, Ku) not currently supported by Commando Solo. A much wider problem, however, is that the PSYOP message now needs to compete against a very rich entertainment menu. As a result, it will become increasingly difficult for the PSYOP community to acquire "mindshare" in its target audiences.

On the other hand, as satellite systems become highly subscribed in one or more regions of the world, they offer an appealing medium for PSYOP dissemination since a single system generally offers full continental coverage at relatively modest cost. The insertions of PSYOP "commercials" and "specials" into existing, branded channels could prove a highly effective, and cost-effective, means for disseminating PSYOP content. Here Department of Defense might wish to become an "anchor tenant" within new systems in order to ensure that such channels exist and are available for Department of Defense use.

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The Special Operations System B (SOMS B) ground-based PSYOP radio in Afghanistan.   The DRASH tents attached to the vehicles are the operational areas for the system set up in Bagram.

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Reachback, support near real time video, audio and data over the ethernet from Fort Bragg to a SOMS-B site at Bagram, Afghanistan provided through JITI and DVDS   transmission.

Elements of the 4th PSYOP Group were busy setting up radio stations in Afghanistan. One of the radio specialists from Ft. Bragg told me:

The Special Operations System B (SOMS B) was the first ground-based PSYOP asset in Afghanistan.   There was a SOMS B in Bagram and one in Kandahar .  Initially broadcasting was done on AM and FM.  Eventually, all broadcasting was migrated to shortwave (SW). The three short wave radio frequencies are 9325, 9345 and 9365 kHz.The stations broadcast from 0030 to 1830 with the heading in Pashto “Da Sola Radyo day,” and in Dari “Inja Solh-e Radyoe”, (“You are listening to Peace Radio.”).

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Soldiers erect the antenna of the Special Operations Media System-Broadcast (SOMS-B) capable of providing local radio and television support including editing of radio and audiovisual products

The antenna field was very crowded in the beginning because all three (AM, FM, and SW) antennas had been set up in the same small area.  The AM antenna was a discone antenna supported by four masts, which were only 50 feet off the ground at the highest point.

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The “Voice of Peace” Radio station building in Jabal os Saraj Afghanistan
The sign above the door reads “VOICE of PEACE.”

PSYOP soldiers had visited the Voice of Peace FM broadcast station in Jabal os Saraj a couple of times to try and improve the coverage of this station, which was supporting US efforts.  The station was housed in a donated building up on the side of a tall hill.  The transmitter was a 500 Watt Japanese made solid-state system that had some “repairs” done by the local welder.  The civilian tech advisors working with the soldiers were able to improve the “repairs” and determine that the existing omni-directional antenna was only rated for 200 Watts, limiting the system.  Replacement antennas were acquired which provided a directional coverage and increased effective radiated power to extend their coverage area.

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PSYOP Soldiers at Fort Bragg, NC use deployable video editing equipment to process raw footage taken by organic electronic news gathering kits in Afghanistan

The requirements of the operation are such that the SW broadcasting is now done from three locations in Afghanistan.  Each location has its own SW transmitter as the SOMS B systems have all returned to FT Bragg.  The audio products are edited using a Deployable Audio Production System (DAPS) designed for PSYOP use by the civilian technical support in the Media Production Center, FT Bragg.  Video products are edited using the Deployable Non-Linear Editor (DNLE) which was developed by the same resource.

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A SOMS-B media broadcast site operating at Kandahar, Afghanistan

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Inside the video production and editing tent of the SOMS-B complex at Kandahar, Afghanistan during a broadcast in support of Operation Enduring Freedom

The SOMS-B system is discussed in depth by Scott R. Gourley in a Special Operations Technology Online Archives article.

The SOMS-B system consists of two primary subsystems: the Mobile Radio Broadcast System (MRBS) and Mobile Television Broadcast System (MTBS). Each of these subsystems consists of a primary HMMWV, a cargo HMMWV, and a mission trailer carrying a 33 kW generator, environmental control unit, and Deployable Rapid Assembly Shelter (DRASH) tent system. The two subsystems can be deployed together or separately.

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Deployable editing equipment used in conjunction with the SOMS-B

The broad objectives of PSYOP are best served by modern sophisticated systems such as the deployable editing equipment being used in conjunction with the SOMS-B.

The SOMS-B provides an AM, FM, television and short wave radio broadcast capability. Except for the very long range short wave system, the other systems have rather short ranges. It’s normally deployed around populated centers where you want to target that audience. You can have all of those means broadcasting. The shortest range system is the television system and it goes up to long range for the short wave. You can position SOMS-B in a strategic location where you can target the local populace with the shorter-range systems—television, and FM—then go further out with AM and cover even larger parts of the countryside with short wave. You can broadcast different programs on each one of them or you can broadcast the same message on all the radios.

That capability goes hand in hand with the other systems. If you’re putting out the word with loudspeakers and with paper products you can also put the word out via the radio. Or you can put out information on which frequency to listen to on your own radio to get the message that’s coming from the SOMS-B broadcast system. And that is one of the things that we’ve done quite extensively in areas where there isn’t any infrastructure: the tactical units will go out with paper products and recorded messages that say, “Tune in to such and such on your dial for more information.” And that information will be the SOMS-B broadcast in that area.

Interim President Karzai had told the Americans very early that their broadcasts were found wanting. ARSOF in Afghanistan notes:

The Pashtun leader knew that radio broadcasts in various dialects would have a greater effect than leaflets. He had listened to the programs broadcast by the Air Force EC- 130 Commando Solo aircraft and told MAJ Barstow that the music was very effective, but the BBC and VOA had better-quality programs. Karzai urged Barstow [Major, C Company, 9th Psychological Operations Battalion] to make the messages more forceful. The people needed to be told what they should do about the Taliban and al-Qaida who were still in their midst.

The radio specialists among the American psychological operations teams kept working on the problem and trying to make their product better and more palatable to the Afghans. A number of articles in the Newspaper Stars and Stripes seem to indicate that their dedication to excellence has paid off. The issue of 10 April 2002 discusses the initial PSYOP radio station.

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EC-130 Commando Solo

Beginning in November 2001, a modified C-130 aircraft dubbed Commando Solo began blasting U.S. messages and local music on airwaves across Afghanistan.

U.S. planes also dropped tons of leaflets to market the informational radio programming to the Afghans. Tactical PSYOPS teams and nongovernmental organizations distributed nearly 5,000 radios to civilians across the country. But early in March, the military withdrew Commando Solo from the theater to refit for its next mission.

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Inside a PSYOP mobile radio studio

On March 8, PSYOPS soldiers in Bagram and Kandahar went on the air. They literally took over their mission on the same frequencies using the Special Operations Media System. The eight-man team now broadcasts round the clock. The Afghan programming, simultaneously broadcast on both AM and short wave is presented in the country’s predominant languages, Dari and Pashto.

Using hour long formats like commercial stations, news and information is broken up by blocks of Afghan music. And of course, the news is all good. Two current messages include the reopening of Kabul University and story of two bicyclists in Kandahar training for the 2004 Olympics. They also air public service announcements about things such as the need for identification cards and polio vaccinations. What locals really like is the music, and they tell the team how the Taliban kept most music on the forbidden list. From Bagram, PSYOPS radio extends about 30 miles, and begins breaking up at the outskirts of Kabul. The short wave broadcast can reach the entire country depending on weather conditions.

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U.S. soldier provides a new radio to a local youth

The issue of 27 June 2002 talks about Radio Peace and American support for the local station and says in part:

Tucked into a small stone compound about 50 miles north of Kabul, the fledgling station is billed as the only independent radio broadcast in Afghanistan. It first hit the airwaves on 8 October 2001 just a day after American air strikes began in the country. Radio is the most effective means of distributing information in a country such as Afghanistan, which has little infrastructure. Literacy is low, so radio rules. The equipment was smuggled into Northern Alliance-held territory through Tajikistan, donated by Droit de Parole, a French organization which also sponsored independent radio stations in Bosnia. The airwaves were shared with Commando Solo, a U.S. Air Force EC-130 that broadcasted music and information for 10 hours a day. The transmissions from Commando Solo ceased on March 8, but similar broadcasts still are being sent across the same frequencies from U.S. military stations based at Bagram and Kandahar.

By late 2004, Peace Radio, channel 9.365 on short wave radio, entertained and informed residents of Paktika province with themes that benefited both coalition forces and Afghan civilians. Transmitting from Forward Operating Base Orgun-E, Peace Radio was run by three Soldiers from the U.S. Army Reserve. The broadcasts have also been heard on 9345 kHz and 6700 kHz.

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A member of the 8th Psychological Operations Battalion,
shows some of the Afghan music CDs that
the battalion's radio station from Kandahar Airfield.

The Stars and Stripes issue of 31 July 2002 points out that the 8th Psychological Operations Battalion is broadcasting Afghan music from the battalion's radio station at Kandahar Airfield. They regularly broadcast the music of Naghma & Mangal, Khaliq Aziz and Ahmed Zahir, some of hottest pop artists and musicians in Afghanistan. Some of the article says:

When the Taliban ruled, radios were forbidden. However, some people hid them in their house and huddled around at night to listen to the BBC or Pakistan programming. Soldiers with the 8th Psychological Operation Battalion operate the mobile 5,000-watt radio station — which has a range of about 20 miles — from a small group of tents. Ninety-percent of the programming is pure Afghan music, including some dance, contemporary and folk music. None is American. Each hour, the Army broadcasts three informational spots. The messages tell listeners such things as what to do if they come across unexploded ordnance, news about the interim government and assurances that U.S. troops are not an occupying force.

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The Police give Radios to the People

Afghan National Police of Kandahar City prepare to pass out radios, leaflets, and stickers. The radios are for the people to listen to radio stations promoting the things that police officers are doing for the Afghans. The leaflets and stickers featured the police and were for the children.

A former PSYOP detachment sergeant in Kandahar and later team chief in Geresk mentioned the distribution of the radios. He said:

The radios were given to all returning Hajjis, people who went on the Hajj to Mecca.  This was a good way to get the radios out since each district was allotted a certain number of people to go on the Hajj. When they returned to their remote areas with the radio, it gave the radios a status symbol quality, since going on the Hajj is such a big thing. Then we would give radios to schools, key communicators and random people in our travels. We used them as an inducement to work with us.  It was a good benefit for the people and everyone wanted more than we could ever give out. People who gave us directions along the road would frequently be rewarded with a radio.

ARSOF in Afghanistan adds:

PSYOP units working in the field distributed small transistor radios countrywide because the Taliban had made it a crime to possess a radio and few were available.

Dawkins [an American PSYOP trooper] met an Afghan woman who had one of the airdropped American transistor radios. She told him that it was the first radio she had heard in seven years. Dawkins made it a point to request the delivery of more transistor radios.

Broadcast media proved very effective during the PSYOP campaign. More than 7,500 small battery-powered transistor radios were distributed both by airdrop and by TPTs with Special Forces ODAS. Simple leaflets told the Afghan people which numbered channels to tune to for American PSYOP-produced programs.

On October 18, the U.S. Government released several radio broadcast texts to the public. Some of the messages were as follows, "Attention Taliban! You are condemned. Did you know that? The instant the terrorists you support took over our planes, you sentenced yourselves to death…our helicopters will rain death down upon your camps before you detect them on your radar. Our bombs are so accurate we can drop them through your windows…you have only one choice, surrender now and we will give you a second chance. We will let you live." In order to entice the Afghans to listen to the radio, about three-quarters of all broadcasts consist of music. The Taliban had condemned music.

On the same day, the American Forces Information Service reported two leaflet drops over northeastern Afghanistan exhorting the people to abandon, or to fight the Taliban and al-Qaida forces. The leaflet is believed to read, "Do you enjoy being ruled by the Taliban? Are you proud to live a life of fear? Are you happy to see the place your family has owned for generations a terrorist training site?"

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Leaflet AFD15

This leaflet depicts an Afghan family walking on a highway while in the distance a Coalition convoy can be seen approaching. The picture is covered by a large red “X” which visually states that this is an unsafe practice. The title of the leaflet is “Beware of vehicles.” On the back of the leaflet the family stands safely by the side of the road as the convoy passes. I have no record of this leaflet being disseminated. A similar leaflet was dropped in Somalia where American troops warned the locals:

Our forces are here to defend the people helping you Do not get involved in any manner. Do not block the roads! Force will be used to protect the convoys.

On October 19, the U.S. Government broadcast warnings of an impending ground attack, "Attention! People of Afghanistan. United States forces will be moving through your area. We are here for Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida, and those who protect them. Please, for your own safety, stay off bridges and roadways and do not interfere with our troops or military operations. If you do this you will not be harmed."

At the same time, it was reported that leaflets were also dropped over the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. The leaflets warned the people to avoid potential military targets and stay in their homes.  The leaflet text is:

We have no wish to hurt you, the innocent people of Afghanistan. Stay away from military installations, government buildings, terrorist camps, roads, factories or bridges. If you are near these places, then you must move away from them. Seek a safe place, and stay well away from anything that might be a target.

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Ranger Calling Card Leaflet "Freedom Endures"

At 1845 (Zulu Time) on 19 October, 199 elite American Rangers and four PSYOP soldiers night-assaulted Objective Rhino on Vengeance Drop Zone. This was a remote Desert Landing Strip approximately 105 miles Southwest of Kandahar. The site had already been hit with 2,000-pound bombs by a B-2 Stealth bomber and strafed by AC-130 Spectre gunships. This was the first Ranger combat drop since Operation Just Cause in Panama. The mission was to gain intelligence about the objective's airstrip and environs to determine its value as a future base. A week later, U.S. Marines established Camp Rhino at that site. Kandahar was the home of the Taliban spiritual leader, Mullah Omar.

Mullah Omar was known to use a PSYOP trick or two. One is mentioned in the Commander’s Handbook for Strategic Communication and Communication Strategy, Version 3.0, US Joint Forces Command Joint Warfighting Center, 24 June 2010:

Taliban leader Mullah Omar received widespread media coverage when, in 1996, he took Mohammed’s shroud out of storage in the shrine of Kharka Sharif in Kandahar, and wore it in a public rally, as a way to identify himself with the Prophet, and give himself legitimacy.

The raid was a warning that America could strike when and where it chose, even at the center of the Taliban spiritual strength. The American troops carried leaflets featuring a photograph of New York City firemen raising the American flag over the ruins of the World Trade Center, with the text "Freedom Endures" in English on one side and Pashto on the other.

During the successful raid the Rangers gathered intelligence and killed 25 enemy troops.

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Ranger Calling Card Leaflet on Rucksack

Although CENTCOM never released an image of the leaflet it did appear on a Discovery Channel TV documentary entitled "Commando Solo Afghan Skies" The leaflet was attached to a soldier’s rucksack and was identified as a "Calling Card" in the documentary. This image is explained by a comment from one of the Rangers who took part in the mission:

The Fireman leaflets were actually attached to the kit bags that we left behind on the drop zone for the locals to police up. To the best of my knowledge every Ranger that was on that jump had one. The size was approximately 5 x 8 inches. According to the battle damage assessment after the operation the locals did pick up the bags and clean up the area. No enemy forces got near us that night. We stuffed our chutes into kit bags so that follow-on aircraft could land without sucking up chutes into the engine intakes.

There is some question as to the legality of using the image on the leaflet. The original “Flag Raising at Ground Zero” photograph was taken by Thomas E. Franklin and published in The Record of Bergen County, New Jersey. I have a large "legal" print of this photograph on my living room wall. However, the Army never attributed the photographer on the PSYOP leaflet. I suspect that Tom Franklin was rather proud when he heard about this operation, but unless they requested permission in advance, this would seem to be a PSYOP mistake.

I was surprised to find the leaflet mentioned in the 2005 book One Bullet Away – the Making of a Marine Officer, by Nathaniel Fick, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, MA. Young Second Lieutenant Fick tells of landing at Camp Rhino well after the battle. His weapons platoon was part of the perimeter defense. As he walked up a small hill to get a better look at the camp he notices a small piece of paper stuck against a desert bush. He picks up the paper and says that it was note paper, about the size of a “thank you” card. It depicted the three firemen raising the flag at the World Trade center and had the words, “Freedom Endures” in both English and Pashto. It was a calling card left by Task Force Sword. Later, as his platoon leaves the site on foot carrying all their weapons and ammo he passes a truck that was destroyed in an ambush. He leaves the leaflet on the truck as a warning to the Taliban.

The mission is explored in greater detail in the book Weapon of Choice - ARSOF in Afghanistan. It tells of Tactical PSYOP Detachment (TPD) 940, B Company, 9th Psychological Operations Battalion (POB) training and rehearsing with the Rangers for five days prior to the operation against the objective they called "Rhino." Four of the Psywarriors jumped from MC-130 Combat Talon aircraft into combat with the Rangers. Some of the text is:

On 12 September 2001, TPD 940 began target analysis for Afghanistan. Especially the Taliban, the Afghan populace, and the al-Qaida network. They were then sent to the 75th Ranger Regiment on 18 September carrying loudspeaker scripts, that included introduction of Coalition forces, surrender appeals, and civilian noninterference warnings. Eventually, the loudspeaker messages were narrowed down to just four.

TPD 940 conducted final planning, underwent several inspections, and participated in detailed rehearsals of actions at the objective. Inspections included personnel, weapons, ammunition, and combat equipment as well as PSYOP product scripts and mini-disk copies of the scripts in Urdu, Pashto, and Arabic that would be used during the operation. The 6th Psychological Operations Battalion (Airborne) Product Development Detachment had also prepared leaflets that were to be left on the objective. They were to communicate America's resolve to stop terrorism and let the enemy know that it had been there.

The four PSYOP specialists split up into two Tactical PSYOP Teams, TPT 941 and TPT 943. One team began broadcasting from a loudspeaker:

It told anyone in the area that U.S. forces were present and that they needed to exit the buildings, stay away from the airfield, drop any weapons, and get down on the ground if they wanted to survive. We played the message for about 5 minutes. The broadcast resounded across the valley floor into the compound. There was no doubt that, anyone in the area had fair warning. This done, we bounded forward to join the rest of the Ranger element at building #1, secured a room, and awaited orders.

We were told to assist in searching the building for any intelligence and weapons, and to be watchful for booby traps. We found a Soviet RPK machine gun with a belt of ammo in the feed tray, expended shell casings, belt links on the ground, a [rocket-propelled grenade] (RPG) launcher with 10 to 12 rounds nearby, and two AK-47 assault rifles. The rooms had articles of clothing strewn about, mattresses and bedding, and other personal effects. After collecting the weapons, we distributed about 400 leaflets in and around the building.

Since we mention TPTs above, perhaps I should take a moment to discuss the U.S. Army PSYOP Organization. The reader should understand that the organization changes over time as new doctrine and equipment is authorized and fielded. At the time this article was written the system was the following:

The 4th PSYOP Group consists of six active Duty PSYOP battalions:

1st PSYOP Battalion – Southern Command
3rd PSYOP Battalion – Dissemination
5th PSYOP Battalion – Pacific Command
6th PSYOP Battalion – European Command
8th PSYOP Battalion – Central Command
9th PSYOP Battalion – Tactical

There were two Army Reserve PSYOP Groups in 2001. The 2nd PSYOP Group consists of four PSYOP battalions and 15 PSYOP companies. The 7th PSYOP Group consists of four PSYOP battalions and 13 PSYOP companies.

In 2021, the Center of Military History, United States Army, Washington, D.C., published a two-book set on the war in Afghanistan titled Modern War in an Ancient Land: The United States Army in Afghanistan. It mentioned very little about PSYOP, but did mention the strain the war put on Reserve PSYOP units:

The reserve component was able to fill the ranks with volunteers in the short term, but by 2004 the lack of available personnel made many units nondeployable. This was most pronounced in the psychological operations and civil affairs forces that were slated to deploy. At the end of 2004, close to 50 percent of Army Reserve personnel (almost 100,000) had been mobilized since 11 September 2001, including 15,000 who had been mobilized twice and 2,000 mobilized three or more times. Within a few months, only 31,000 of 205,000 Army Reserve soldiers were eligible for mobilization under the policy of twenty-four-month cumulative mobilization without a volunteer statement.

Each PSYOP Battalion can support a corps. Within the PSYOP battalions are Tactical PSYOP Companies (TPC), each of which can support a division. The Companies are made up of Tactical PSYOP Detachments (TPD), each of which can support a brigade. The team is idyllically made up of a Detachment Commander (CPT), Detachment NCOIC (SSG) and two PSYOP specialists (SPC) equipped with two M1025 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs) and both an AEM450/900 (1000-1800 meters range) vehicle loudspeaker and LSB-40B (700-1000 meters range) dismounted loudspeaker. The family of loudspeaker systems incorporates the latest advances in portable audio technology. Along with controls for audio source and adjustable output levels, the system contains a digital voice recorder function to provide three minutes of audio recording capabilities. The system can broadcast live or prerecorded messages from a cassette player, minidisk, internal digital voice recorder or wireless microphone. It also can support new commercial devices, like MP3 players. The highest power version, with even greater range, is mounted on the Black Hawk helicopter. The maritime version of the loudspeaker system is mounted on the special operations Mark V patrol craft where it can be used for detaining or instructing suspicious watercraft.

The detachments can be broken up into Tactical PSYOP Teams (TPT), each of which can support a battalion. The team is idyllically made up of a team leader (SSG), Assistant team leader (SGT) and a PSYOP specialist (SPC) equipped with two HMMWVs and both a vehicle and dismounted loudspeaker.

Lorne R. Segerstrom wrote the thesis Winning the Soft War: The Employment of Tactical PSYOP Teams in Combat Operations in 2012 for a Master of Military Art and Science at the Command and General Staff College. He described a standard TPT:

A TPT is a rather small element consisting of a team leader who is a Staff Sergeant, a Psychological Operations Sergeant who is a Sergeant, and a Psychological Operations Specialist, who is a Specialist. Locally hired interpreters normally augment teams. TPTs in conventional operations traditionally support battalions and in non- conventional operations support special operations elements.

In a Special Operations Technology Online Archives article written by Scott R. Gourley, print capabilities are discussed. He says that the Deployable Print Production Center (DPPC) is configured inside an S-250 shelter carried on a HMMWV. The rapidly deployable system allows for local production of leaflets, flyers, newsletters and other information products in forward areas. One graphics artist/illustrator and one printer operate a hardware suite featuring dual Pentium Pro 200 MHz processors, 128 MB of RAM, a scanner, a 600 dpi color laser printer, a Risograph high speed digital duplicator, and an electronic paper cutter. The system is capable of producing up to 93,000 single-color leaflets in 24 hours.

The Modular Print System (MPS) represents the “next step up” in print products. It has heavier Heidelburg presses in it that can produce larger quantity print products at much higher quality. It is used for leaflets that need to be fancier with multiple colors.

The MPS contains three modules: A, B, and C. Module A contains printing equipment that is no longer used. Module B consists of two expandable shelters, each containing Heidelberg offset presses that can print two colors at one time or one color, front and back. Module C is an expandable shelter that contains a large paper cutter. These shelters also contain a press plate maker and a small light table. Modules B and C both contain limited paper storage space when expanded. The MPS requires a 26-Soldier team for 24-hour operations. Setup of the MPS with 26 Soldiers requires 6 hours.

The Sunday Times of October 21 stated that what appeared to be genuine 100-afghanis banknotes had been overprinted and airdropped with the message "Our goals will be achieved, if not willingly, then by overwhelming force."  

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On October 23, the Taliban showed that the leaflets and radio messages were having a result. A senior militia official announced from Kabul that the Afghan people in the eastern city of Jalalabad were burning the propaganda leaflets and radios being dropped by U.S. planes to turn the population against the Taliban. The leaflets were also reportedly dropped on the western neighborhoods of Kabul. Some Afghans said that they were afraid to pick up the leaflets and risk punishment by the Taliban.

The leaflet dropped on Jalalabad shows al-Qaida terrorists at the left and right targeted by a sniper's crosshairs in red. Text at the center in Pashto and Dari read:

Drive out the foreign terrorists.

The Taliban is made up of non-Afghans, particularly Pakistanis. It is believed that the Afghans fear and dislike them, and thus the leaflet tries to drive a wedge between the two groups.

The back of the leaflet shows a member of the Taliban religious police whipping a woman in a burqa at the left. Text at the right reads:

Is this the future you want for your women and children?

The Religious Police will whip women on the street that they feel are not dressing in accordance with a strict interpretation of the Koran. It may be that this leaflet was not effective because many Afghans questioned about the image on the leaflet believed that the female had probably broken some religious law to deserve a beating. It seems to be a case of the United States believing that what was important in its culture would also be important in Afghan culture. This leaflet is also found coded AFD024b. 5,380,000 copies of the AFD-024b leaflet were disseminated by M129 leaflet bombs in the first year of the war.

The American propaganda radio reinforced the “divide and conquer” message to separate the Taliban from the Afghan people:

Do you enjoy being ruled by the Taliban? Are you proud to live a life of fear? Are you happy to see the place your family has owned for generations a terrorist training site? Are you proud to live under a government that harbors terrorists? Are you proud to live in a nation ruled by extreme fundamentalists?

The Taliban have robbed your country of your heritage. They have destroyed your national monuments, and cultural artifacts. They rule by force, violence, and fear. They insist that their form of Islam is the one and only form, the true form, the divine form. They see themselves as religious experts. They seek to rob you and your nation of its past. That which has brought you together as a nation over the past thousands of years is being slowly torn apart. They destroy your national treasures. They also harbor terrorists.

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Leaflet AFD16

This leaflet has two drawings on the front and two on the back showing Afghans how to approach the food rations dropped on them by Coalition helicopters. The two pictures on the front depict the crate of rations (marked “C”) falling by parachute and landing on the ground. The two pictures on the back depict an Afghan father and son seeing the crate on the ground, and the father opening it to display the various foodstuffs. There is no text on this leaflet and I have no record that it was disseminated. Notice that in Leaflet 16g below the lesson is presented in a better way and the packets are in their official yellow color with the printed title “HDR.” In Somalia starving people rushed under the parachuted food and some were crushed. As a result, a similar leaflet was dropped by American aircraft in Bosnia which warned:

Danger! For everyone's safety, let humanitarian aid land before approaching.

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On October 29, the U.S. Government released another leaflet image. This leaflet had four cartoons in full color. The first shows an American aircraft dropping humanitarian daily rations (HDR) food packets. The second shows an Afghan picking up one of the packets. When turned over, the leaflet shows the Afghan tearing open the packet. The word "Halal" is at the upper right. This term shows that the food was prepared in accordance with the Koran. The final illustration shows the Afghan sitting with his entire family and enjoying the feast sent by the Americans. The leaflet is clearly designed for illiterate Afghans and shows them what to do with the yellow packets found on the ground. This leaflet is found with and without the code AFD16g.

1,070,000 copies of this leaflet were disseminated by M129 leaflet bombs in the first year of the war.

There seems to be a number of variations of this same leaflet with slight changes. In one I noticed that the leaflet depicts the entire food crate dropping in the first cartoon box.

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A New Color for the Food Packet

There was a problem when the United States realized that the color of the food packets and the cluster bomblets were both yellow and children might pick up the explosive. In order to preserve lives, the humanitarian daily ration (HDR) color was changed. In the picture above, we show an exhibit from the JFK Special Warfare Museum at Ft. Bragg where the new orange-colored packet was displayed, along with a poster, leaflets and the PSYOP radio given to the Afghans.

Another problem with food is mentioned Dr. Daniel L. Haulman in an article titled “USAF Psychological Operations, 1990-2003.”

During Operation Enduring Freedom, USAF C-17s dropped thousands of food packages over Afghanistan with printed messages stating, “This is a food gift from the people of the United States of America.” Unfortunately, they were printed in English, Spanish, and French, none of which the average Afghan could understand. The packages had been prepared without reference to where they would be delivered.

In Bosnia there were deaths when hungry people rushed into the drop zones and were crushed by the falling food crates. The United States warned the people of Somalia when they dropped food there, and again in Afghanistan. The American radio told the Afghans:

Attention, people of Afghanistan! Aid is being dropped by plane at a very high altitude using large parachutes. These parachutes slow their descent. Despite the parachutes, the bundles will still fall very fast. These bundles will drift and shift directions due to wind. These bundles may appear small, but they are in fact very large and heavy. Do not stand directly below them. Let the bundles land and settle before you approach them. If you follow these instructions you will not be injured. The bundles are filled with food, water, and medical supplies. The bundles will not contain any military related supplies or equipment. These have been given to you by the United States in an effort to show our support for the fair people of Afghanistan. The United States does not want you, the innocent people of Afghanistan, to suffer for the deeds of Al Qaida and its leader Osama bin laden. That is why the United States has prepared and delivered these aid bundles.