Psychological Operations
in Afghanistan

By  Herbert A. Friedman


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British PSYOP

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British 15th (UK) PSYOPS ISAF News

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Distributing the ISAF News
Courtesy of Peter Strehlenert

A Swedish Military Observation Team soldier hands out the
ISAF News at the Police station in Qarqin, Jowszjan province.

The British 15th (UK) PSYOPS Group undertook a range of tasks in Kabul and surrounding areas in support of its mission. Two of its major missions were assisting the Interim Administration in developing future security structures and assisting the Interim Administration in reconstruction. Working within the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) they helped to produce the newspaper ISAF News.

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“Game of Unity” Poster

They also produced various leaflets in the form of mine awareness warnings, and posters encouraging the neighborhood watch campaign, health assistance, and the “Game of Unity” which was the first major athletic event after the fall of the Taliban. This match pitted a handpicked team of the capital's finest footballers against a squad selected from the eight-nation Afghan peacekeeping force.

In January 2007 the British commented on their PSYOP activities in Afghanistan in an article entitled “NATO Reveals Dark Art of PSYOP” in the London Sunday Times. The article stated that British Commanders believe that there are two types of Taliban insurgents in the war-ravaged south of Afghanistan. The first, called “Tier 1,” are the leaders, some of whom are foreign-born. The second, called “Tier 2,” are the rank and file. Major Kirsty McQuade, the top NATO PSYOP officer in southern Afghanistan is quoted:

Tier 1 wants to regain control of the country. Some of them have power and prestige and they like that. Some of them are just psychopaths. Tier 2 is often motivated by factors such as debt. Some are very poor and uneducated and they do as they are told. If you can clear the debt or give them an alternative way of making money they are often willing to give up.

In Operation Baaz Tsuka, in which Canadian, British and American forces routed hundreds of Taliban from two districts that they had been using as platforms for assaults on Kandahar, the PSYOP troops targeted each group with a separate message. The goal of Operation Falcon Summit, Baaz Tsuka in Pashto, (also written as Baaz Tsuka or Baaz Suka) in December 2006 was to either kill or force the hard-line Taliban to leave the Panjwaii and Zahre districts where they have fought Canadian troops for months. Under overall British command, Canadian troops, tanks, and armored vehicles advanced and sought to convince the so-called Tier-two fighters -- who have joined the Taliban simply for the relatively good pay -- to go back to their villages. It was hoped that with those fighters disarmed, the ideologically committed Tier-one hardliners and leaders west of Kandahar City would be left on their own. As the offense moved forward, the NATO forces secured the area and then installed Afghan police. Some 800 auxiliary officers were deployed in Kandahar province.

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Thousands of leaflets sit on a CH-47 Chinook helicopter to be drop in Khogyani District, Afghanistan, July 15, 2014. The purpose of the leaflet drop was to inform the Afghan population of a tip line that they could use to report enemy activity. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Nathaniel Newkirk)

During the early morning hours of December 15, NATO aircraft began dropping three different leaflets over the region, the first warning the population of the impending conflict, the next was a plea for locals to turn their backs on the Taliban and support NATO, and the third consisting of an image of a dead Taliban fighter to warn Taliban fighters to either leave the area, or face NATO.

Sergeant Rich Bryan of the British 15th PSYOP Group illustrated several of these leaflets. They were his last projects of that tour in Afghanistan and as he left the leaflets were being loaded on Blackhawk helicopters for the leaflet dissemination. He said:

The leaflets were a success; many surrendering or captured Taliban had them on their person. The leaflets even appeared in the British FHM magazine in August of 2007.

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The Failed Skull Leaflet

The leaflet aimed at Tier 1 Taliban showing the humiliation of capture on one side and death on the other angered me. My first design was so much better it was simple but effective. It depicted a skull with the words:

Death is coming, leave this area.

It was never disseminated because during a “murder board” one of our Afghan interpreters failed to recognize that a skull symbolized death (Afghanistan must be the only country in the world where this is the case!). The “dead guy” in the one that was dropped was very much a “Frankenstein” and was made up from many different pictures (head of an Iraqi, body, gun, blood from different images). To this day I think that interpreter was just trying to piss me off.

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An early rendition of the leaflet - with pistol

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The final image chosen for dissemination - with AK47

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Leaflets showing the bloody body of a dead gunman and a hooded prisoner of war warned Tier 1 Taliban leaders and hardliners:

Enemies of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan - LEAVE.

Capture or death await you.

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The leaflet aimed at Tier 2 foot soldiers depicted a hand holding bullets on one side and a hand holding seeds on the other. The text is:

Do not choose to follow the enemies of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

Choose peace and return home to your elders

The Tier 2 foot soldiers were told:

Choose peace. Return to your homes and meet with your elders.

More than 88,000 propaganda leaflets were dropped. A day after the leaflet drops Canadian forces took control of Howz-e Madad, a former Taliban-held village, without firing a shot.

In a separate operation in Helmand province, British Royal Marines hauled a loudspeaker into battle to talk to the Taliban: Major Kirsty McQuade adds:

We explain to Tier 2 that their commanders don’t care about them. They are just using them for their own aims.

In another January 2007 news story, David Leask mentions a second British PSYOP program in The Herald. The operation is in Lwar, a hamlet effectively in the no-man's land between the British and the Taliban in Helmand, the country's most volatile province. Corporal Phil Morrison of the Royal Marines gives a local elder leaflets and a newspaper printed by the British. The stories are designed to show what the British, and the government of Hamid Karzai are doing.

Its front page has a picture of a woman in uniform: Afghanistan's first policewoman. After years of Taliban oppression, when girls could not go to school, it is designed to show things have changed. Most girls still struggle for education. But the officer, in faraway Kabul, is even teaching policemen how to shoot.

Other themes are:

“Don't go near convoys.” A family that did was shot dead. That didn't do much to win hearts and minds. Messages, without a hint of irony, also warn Afghans away from “foreign fighters,” That refers to the Arabs and Pakistanis believed to be helping the Taliban in their holy war against British and other international troops in the country.

In a 2006 PSYOP Capabilities briefing, how PSYOP products may be used is mentioned. PSYOP products:

Must follow the established approval process.
Must be part of the established coordinated strategic plan and follow strategic goals.
Can be modified or adjusted without approval for pre-approved products if messages, themes, and symbols do not change.
Check product book prior to making a new request – many pre-approved products are available and quick to print.

British Warning leaflet printed by the 15th PSYOP Group

On 20 June 2002 the British handed over the position of lead nation of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to Turkey. During the time that Great Britain was the lead nation, several leaflets and publications were produced by the 15 (UK) Psychological Operations Group for the Afghan people. One full-color flyer that addresses unexploded ordnance depicts a mortar shell. I depict an English-language version. The text in Pashto and Dari is:


ISAF is currently carrying out the destruction of unsafe weapons and explosives for your future safety. You will be hearing a number of loud bangs/explosions in the area of the airport during the next three to four weeks. There is nothing to worry about.


The Emergency Loya Jirga

When a new democratic nation is envisioned one of the first things they do is get the people out to vote and a ruling body organized and ready to take control. This leaflet was produced by the Special Commission for Convening of the Emergency Loya Jirga. With the coming election of new people, the Coalition wanted to get the ruling body of Afghanistan in session and start the democratic process.

The PSYOP Product Book

PSYOP commands normally keep a product book on hand for units that desire a leaflet on a certain theme. Instead of having to assign an artist and translator to produce such a leaflet on short notice, dozens of leaflets are already prepared and ready to be disseminated. All a unit need do is select the leaflet they want, and they will be printed and ready to go almost immediately. Notice that in this book all the leaflets have English translations. That is so the unit looking for a certain message can read it without translation. Once the leaflet is ordered, it will be printed in the desired language, Dari, or Pashtu. Talking to people involved in Afghanistan at this time I was told that there were about 20 different project books, and news stories were produced for 23 radio stations weekly, and three newspapers. DVDs were also produced and distributed and there were many rumor programs. This product book contained 137 individual items, including handbills, leaflets, posters, and novelty items. Some are in Pashtu, some in Dari, and some in both languages. I am not going to show 137 items here, so I will select some that I find interesting. I should point out that handbills are exactly like leaflets, except that they will be handed to an individual rather than dropped from an aircraft. Therefore, they are not designed to fall at a certain speed and cover a specific amount of ground. Often, they are a bit larger.

Handbill AFA03aaHB3303
10,000 no later than 4 June 2006

Handbill AFD01aaHB3247
25,000 delivered 10 June 2006 

Handbill AFC01aaHB3206
10,000 no later than 4 June 2006

Handbill AFGB403504

Handbill AFGF43067

Handbill AFH01nnHB3301
10,000 no later than 4 June 2006

Leaflet AFH05aaHB3259
25,000 no later than 12 June 2006

The United States prints mine awareness leaflets in every war it is involved in. These are meant to protect the lives of civilians and point out the hazards of the explosives that can remain active and deadly for decades.

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The image of a heavy bomber is one of the main features of American leaflets. They pictured B-17s in WWII, B-29s in Korea, and starting in Vietnam featured the B-52 bomber. This one adds the tank killing A-10 Warthog on the back.

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The radio is important in psychological operations. Going all the way back to WWII the United States produced leaflets telling friends and enemies how to listen to the Allied broadcasts. This leaflet uses the same general theme, depicting a radio and an antenna and telling the people how to dial in the station.

Bumper sticker AFD04aaDE3218
5,000 no later than 4 June 2006

Starting in Desert Storm the United States started producing propaganda bumper stickers. They are usually pro-government and patriotic. In the product book this was listed under “Novelties.”


It both Afghanistan and Iraq it was very important to bring the people a kind of democracy where they could vote for their leaders. A lot of time, money, and psychological operations went into a successful election. The leaflet above seems to be drawn by a child and shows people of different status and the text:

A New Afghanistan

One person, one vote

The 4th PSYOP Group said about the elections in 2004:

91% of 9.9 million Afghans are registered to vote.
59% of registered voters are males and 41% females.
Over 4 million women have registered to vote.
Average voter registration is 100,000 people per day.

Propaganda pencils AFC04aaNV3039
5,000 no later than 4 June 2006

Reward Poster AFH05aaPS3343

The United States has offered rewards for weapons, information on American airmen shot down, and the location and arrest of enemy official, troops, or terrorists starting about the Vietnam War. This poster depicts a terrorist, weapons, and explosives and the far right and at the far left an inviting pile of crisp United States twenty-dollar bills. It was approved on 25 May 2006 and 500 copies were printed.

Some other requests that were on the drawing board were magnets, a bumper sticker giving Coalition radio stations, a 2007 calendar, immunization posters, and teaching materials.

Gifts were dropped in WWII. Food seeds, and coffee and tea were dropped over occupied Europe. In later wars there were soccer balls, T-shirts, thread, and many gifts for children like pencils, crayons, and coloring books. In the product book this was also listed under “Novelties.”

Prayer Rug

One of the most interesting gifts prepared by the Psychological Task Force – Afghanistan, is this beautiful prayer rug, used five times a day by every practicing Muslim. 10,000 of these were given out to win hearts and minds. 1000 Quarans were also printed and gifted to selected recipients. 45,000 Ramadan cards were printed to be used by, or sent to, selected individuals.

On 20 June 2008, the BBC announced that the first British servicewoman to be killed in the Afghanistan conflict was Corporal Sarah Bryant, a member of the 15th (United Kingdom) Psychological Operations Group, a 70-strong unit based in Chicksands, Bedfordshire. She spoke Pashtu, and it is thought she was involved in forging links with Afghan communities and monitoring Taliban radio traffic.

Jerome Starkey mentions British propaganda against the Taliban in the New Scotsman, 29 July 2008. Some of his comments are:

BRITISH troops in southern Afghanistan are aping the Taliban's propaganda techniques as part of an increasingly desperate battle to win support of the local people. Psychological warfare soldiers are using a series of subtle – and not so subtle – leaflet campaigns to turn the insurgents' messages against them…The Taliban's top-level commanders fled to Pakistan after the regime collapsed in 2001. Many of their mid-level commanders were educated in Pakistani madrassas, or religious schools, and their ranks have been swelled with Arab and Chechen fighters bent on waging holy war against western forces. Intelligence officials have even found evidence of renegade British terrorists fighting for the insurgents. “We're trying to plant the idea in their heads that the Taliban are under foreign leadership,” Lieutenant Commander MacLean said. The PSYOP cell has produced a series of leaflets linking atrocities with foreign fighters. One leaflet shows a screaming baby that has lost both legs and a hand, with the message: “This is the foreign Taliban's gift for you. They don't care about your life.”

The British code name for operations in Afghanistan was “Herrick.” Although British PSYOP products have been slow to surface in the United States, we depict some that have been brought back by returning servicemen.

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Justice Does not Sleep

Just as many American leaflets warn the insurgents that they are constantly being watched day and night, this leaflet depicts a British soldier with a terrorist in his sights. The text is:

Night is no refuge for the terrorists

Justice does not sleep

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You cannot hide at Night

This leaflet shows that there is no hiding place for members of the insurgency. British helicopters fly through the night and their spotlights light up three armed Taliban below.

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We are staying until Peace Returns

This leaflet was produced and distributed after intense fighting in Lashkar-Gah. It shows the Afghan National Security Forces along side UK forces standing firm until the “dove of peace” returns. The text reminds the Afghans that the British are staying until the Taliban is beaten. The Taliban propaganda claimed that the British would soon leave and then retribution would be taken against collaborators. Afghan Governor Mangle is included as a symbol of authority. The text is:

We are staying until Peace Returns

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Peace vs. War

This poster shows the stark contrast between the world of the legitimate Afghanistan Government and that of the Taliban. On one side of the street security is provided by the Afghan National Security Forces, children are playing and the hospital is modern. On the other side children are armed and it shows the destruction caused by the Taliban. A former Taliban fighter has put down his weapon and is being helped to come over to the National Government.

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Taliban Pigs

This image was produced as both a poster and a leaflet and implies that the people who lay improvised explosive devices are the lowest form of life. Other versions depicting dogs and foxes were produced for areas where the use of the pigs would be considered too offensive.

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Taliban Murder Elders in your Mosques

The poster was in response to the Taliban murdering an Afghan Elder in a Mosque. The Taliban are shown using a knife and this is purely symbolic and it reflects the murder of the 3rd Caliph, Uthman ibn Affen whilst at prayer in the year 656 AD, an incident which resonates strongly with the Sunni Muslims. The text is:

Taliban Murder Elders in your Mosques

Never forget

In 2012, the British 15th Psychological Operations Group was presented with the Firmin Sword of Peace for their valuable contribution to humanitarian activities. A team from the 15th POG has been continuously deployed to Helmand for six years. The unit runs a network of seven radio stations employing local Afghans as disk jockeys, broadcasts music, poetry, debate programs and even a soap opera, as well as producing graphical posters and leaflets to communicate in an area where literacy rates are only around 20%. Recent projects include information campaigns to prevent children picking up ordnance they find and disseminating information from farming and veterinary workshops.

In 2019, writer Chris Harland-Dunaway who was writing a story for The Verge, told me:

There were hundreds of Afghan DJ's who were hired to do PSYOP radio from about 2009 until 2013. They used “radio in a box” technology, wrote and ran their own call-in shows, played Pashto pop music, and did some straight-ahead journalism. They were incredibly popular.

Since we are mentioning British and Canadian troops in Afghanistan. Perhaps we should mention the number of troops the various English speaking allies sent to Afghanistan. Great Britain deployed 25,000 troops between 2001 and 2007. Canada deployed 20,000 troops between 2002 and 2007. Australia sent 10,000 troops between 2001 and 2007 and New Zealand sent 3100 troops between 2001 and 2005.

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Canadian PSYOP

Since we mention Canadian troops in the paragraph above perhaps this would be a good time to give a brief description of their part in Operation Enduring Freedom. Canadian peacekeepers were first deployed to Afghanistan in August 2003. Two contingents of 1,800 Canadian soldiers were deployed in consecutive six-month rotations. Forty-four Canadian soldiers had been killed in Operation Enduring Freedom by December 2006.

Not much has been published about the Canadian PSYOP teams in Afghanistan. Colonel Steve Bowes, commander of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar said in September 2005 that the Canadians in Kandahar were running Canada's largest propaganda campaign since the Second World War, using a Montreal-based group of specialists known as Canadian Psychological Operations. They sent patrols to the remote town of Spin Boldak, near the Pakistani border, and to other locations around Kandahar:

The PSYOP team distributed stacks of colorful newspapers, posters, leaflets and brochures in the local languages of Dari and Pashtun. The leaflets were simple: glossy pictures of children and white doves, with the slogan, “Your votes will make your future. Congratulations for voting.” To test its product, the team pulled aside several people who couldn't read to see how well the images were understood in a country where four out of five people can't read.

Captain N.M. Johnson of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry wrote an article entitled, “The Importance of PSYOPS in Fourth Generation Warfare.” Under “Current Canadian Capabilities" he says:

The Canadian PSYOPS Group was formed in January 2004, and currently comprises of twelve full time reservists. An extra 15 to 20 Class B reservists, typically on 18 month contracts, are hired to form the teams that train and deploy with Task Forces (TF) on operations. It is arguably meager in size when compared to the full upscale US and UK PSYOPS battalions, but yet it assures an entirely Canadian PSYOPS capability to the CF. The PSYOPS Group is composed of a Directorate (COL, LTC and CWO) located in Montreal, and three cells:

1. Operations Support: ensures Reachback capability (the “rear party” PSYOPS specialist production team that supports deployments)

2. Resources and Development: responsible for logistical and financial management, development of concepts and doctrine

3. Force Generation: responsible for recruiting, selection, personnel management, professional development, and training (now done in conjunction with the Peace Support Training Center in Kingston).

Two other organizations complete the Canadian Force PSYOP capability:

1. Tactical PSYOPS Detachment (TPD): joined to a Brigade HQ, this element provides PSYOPS support and planning to Brigade-sized units, commands the Tactical PSYOPS Teams (TPTs, described below) and controls product dissemination. There is currently one TPD (four Canadian personnel) with the HQ of the Multi-National Brigade in Kandahar. The TPD includes a Target Audience Analyst Team (TAAT), which conducts in-depth research of the target audience (different groups within local population) to identify vulnerabilities and susceptibility to PSYOPS themes and messages. The Product Coordination Team validates PSYOPS products, coordinates their production and controls their dissemination.

2. Tactical PSYOPS Team (TPT): is a specialized team, joined to a Task Force mounted in two G-Wagons (Gelaendenwagen vehicles, “G Wagon” for short, produced by Mercedes Benz in Graz, Austria), equipped with loudspeakers, cameras, portable speaker systems and C8 and C9 for close protection. They disseminate approved PSYOPS products (loudspeaker messages, handbills, leaflets, newspapers) to the target audiences. Their presence on the ground allows them to gather PSYOPS related information to identify and reduce the impact of hostile propaganda and rumors, and they are also able to assist the Task Force to respond to crowd disturbances. A TPT was deployed with the Provincial Reconstruction Team, and one is presently with Task Force 1-06.

Notice that the Canadian PSYOP organization (TPD/TPT) is almost identical to the American organization, though on a much smaller scale.

The Canadian Army website mentions PSYOP in a 7 September 2004 article entitled “Psychological Operations plays with soldiers’ minds.” The Commander of the Army, Lieutenant-General Rick Hillier, signed the order in November 2003 to develop the Army's PSYOP capability as part of Land Force Reserve Restructure. Prior to Summer 2004, officers and non-commissioned members were trained in PSYOP by the Allies, then deployed overseas in a PSYOP position and upon return to Canada their experience was lost. The Canadian and British Army arranged to have the course brought to Canada. Personnel from the 15th United Kingdom Psychological Operations Group taught the two-week UK Military Psychological Operations Course in Montreal. The article interviews PSYOP Commander Lieutenant-Colonel Bruno Vanasse and says that twenty-four Reservists underwent six weeks of PSYOP training at both civilian and military establishments in the Montreal area.

Second Lieutenant Jessica M. Davis talks about Canadian PSYOP in Afghanistan in the Canadian Military Journal, August, 2005. She says that Canadian troops from the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry took part in two Afghan operations named “Apollo” and “Athena.”  She points out that although many Afghans had television sets, TV was not exploited to send messages. There was a lack of human intelligence, and communication between agencies and organizations were poor. Worse, there was a lack of secure communications equipment. She concludes that information operations are the wave of the future and Canada needs to take the subject far more seriously than it so far has.

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Sgt Larson, an interpreter, and a village
elder in conversation in front of a Canadian G-Wagon

A Sergeant Larsen of the Cameron Highlanders reports on his tour from July 2005 to July 2006. He says that he would typically leave Kandahar Air Field about once a week for anywhere from one to five days. His specialty was target audience analysis, so he would discuss the current political situation and then let the Afghans hear or see PSYOP products such as a radio message or a poster and make an evaluation. Larsen felt that he made a positive impact during his tour.

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Peace Support Training Center

More recently, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported in 2006 that the Canadian military has contracted with the communications expert Ivana Previsic to teach soldiers how to become effective news broadcasters and get the military’s messages out to locals in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Previsic is to establish an operational newsroom in an army studio run by the Peace Support Training Centre in Kingston, Ontario. The soldiers will be taught all the skills required to prepare and broadcast a professional series of programs.

Another military contract won by Ottawa-based International Datacasting Corporation ensures that the first graduates will be broadcasting digital radio broadcasts from Kingston, Canada, into their Afghanistan area of operations by satellite. The Canadian Forces may take part in an allied effort to extend military-controlled radio broadcasting from Kabul to the rest of the country.

In 2010, the Associated Press reported that the Canadians were broadcasting from five small local radio stations in Kandahar Province called the Voice of Panjwaii. The station has been on air since June, broadcasting news, government announcements, weather and other programs throughout the district southwest of Kandahar city where Canadians have been concentrating their efforts in Afghanistan. About 80 per cent of Panjwaii residents have radios. Canadian soldiers have handed out an estimated 30,000 units over the past two year in the province. The article adds:

In Afghanistan, the Taliban uses “night letters,” delivered to doorsteps in the dark with threats for those they suspect of co-operating with pro-government forces. The Canadian military now responds with “day letters” to be distributed by Afghan police or soldiers, denouncing the insurgents and suggesting they are cowards who make threats and refuse to stand and fight.

Living among Afghans and meeting with them regularly is still the primary way to win trust. “Nothing beats a face-to-face meeting.”

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German PSYOP

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German OpInfo Battalion

On 22 December 2001, the German Bundestag gave its approval for German participation in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), based on Resolution 1386 of the United Nations Security Council. ISAF’s mission and military structure are entirely separate from Operation Enduring Freedom. Some 2,000 German soldiers served in Kabul.

PSYOPS forces were an integral part of the German contingent with approximately 15 soldiers on the ground. The most important element of PSYOP activities were the loudspeaker groups. It was their task to communicate with the population and to disseminate PSYOP products. In addition, the print group was responsible for the production of flyers and newspapers. The “ISAF News” is just one of many products. In addition to the soldiers' radio “Radio Andernach,” the PSYOP radio station Sada-e Azadi (Voice of Freedom) was established. Sada-e Azadi broadcasts in the two main languages spoken in the country, Dari and Pashtu.

In October 2003 the Bundeswehr expanded its mission beyond the city limits of Kabul. A Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) supported civil reconstruction in Kunduz. Here again, PSYOPS forces were there right from the start. They printed flyers in the national languages, drove around in loudspeaker vehicles, worked on establishing a newspaper, and broadcast locally on Radio Sada-e Azadi. There were some 250 soldiers in Kunduz, about 16 of whom were PSYOP troops.

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Guns for Books Poster

One German PSYOP program was aimed at taking toy guns from the hands of children. Leaflets were designed offering children exercise books in exchange for their toy weapons. The campaign was extremely successful and contributed to the safety of the children. It also provided an opportunity to distribute books and stationery to the children.

Flying kites used to be a popular pastime for both young and old in Afghanistan. It was a common sport to fly kites “fighting” each other in the air. The Taliban prohibited this game. The Germans produced a “peace kite” in the Afghan national colors of black, red and green with a dove of peace in the center surrounded by the words “Adorn life with freedom.” A small coat of arms of the ISAF forces indicates to the people who distributed these 10,000 kites.

Jon Boone mentioned German PSYOP in The Guardian of 1 October 2009:

Communicating messages to the Afghans is an important part of the NATO mission, with the German army nominally in charge of psychological operations, producing billboards and handbills. Ingenious graphics are used to try to get across basic ideas to a largely illiterate audience: evil cartoon poppies with fanged teeth are supposed to be suggestive of the evils of opium production and convoluted photo-stories warn of the dangers of interfering with roadside bombs.

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Belgian PSYOP

Belgium has a small PSYOP Support Element (PSE) unit called the Information Operations Group (Info Ops Grp) consisting of about 30 regular military personnel and selected reservists as needed. In Afghanistan the Belgian unit provided staff in support of the Tactical PSYOP Support Element in Kabul (Camp Warehouse) and for the Combined Joint Psychological Operations Task Force at the International Security Assistance Force headquarters. They also sent radio specialists to work at the Radio Sada-e Azadi station and print technicians to work with the print section of the CJPOTF. They deployed one tactical PSYOP team in the north of Afghanistan to Kunduz province working under German command. The Belgian team in Kunduz specializes in face-to-face communication with the local population.

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Italian PSYOP

In April 2010, the Under-Secretary of State of Italian Ministry of Defense, Mr. Guido Crosetto cut the tricolor ribbon at the opening of the Italian contingent’s radio station Sada and Azadi West, which translates to “The Voice of Freedom- West.” The radio station, as part of the NATO radios network, was developed with Italian funds by the staff of the Regional PSYOP Support Element (RPSE), composed of personnel of the 28th Pavia Regiment, a unit specializing in “Operating Communications." All of the programs will be broadcast exclusively in Pashto and Dari languages. The station will offer information of public interest for the Afghan people in an attempt to increase knowledge on the purpose of ISAF coalition forces present in Afghanistan. The program will include musical entertainment, local news and in-depth sections on important social issues and local culture. The radio is the main tool to disseminate information throughout Afghanistan and will reach people even in the most remote areas.

The Italians print a magazine for the PSYOP troops in Afghanistan called “Cavallo pazzo.” The magazine states that the Italians are able to disseminate PSYOP products in areas previously thought inaccessible by using helicopters. It is apparently difficult to obtain cardboard for leaflet boxes in Afghanistan so attempts have been made to produce a prototype cordura fabric leaflet bag.

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We don’t know much about Czech PSYOP capabilities. The first Czech PSYOP troops were trained in 2000 when the Stress Research Center of the Military University Vyškov, Czechoslovakian Republic, combined with American PSYOP troops from the 6th PSYOP Battalion to teach the initial national PSYOP course to 15 officers. The course taught marketing, communication, ethics, and socio-mapping. The Stress Center provided research into PSYOP as a form of conflict resolving, ethics in PSYOP, and the professional qualities of PSYOP specialists. It also studied the methodology and criteria for the selection of PSYOP specialists. Much of the training was based on NATO PSYOP Doctrine AJP-3.7.

Some selected Czech troops have served in peace missions in Bosnia and Kosovo. More recently, Czech PSYOP troops have served in Afghanistan

Some Notes on Units Arriving in Afghanistan

12th PSYOP Battalion Crest

On 15 November 2005, a five-man team from the 12th PSYOP Battalion of the 7th PSYOP Group deployed to Bagram, Afghanistan, to conduct a Pre-deployment Site Survey for their upcoming deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom 06-08.

The purpose was to confirm what equipment and facilities were in-country, what the current unit utilizes during their operations and what they will return with, and to identify any equipment and/or training shortfalls the new command might have prior to deploying. On arriving at Bagram, the Pre-deployment Site Survey party linked up with the 362nd Tactical PSYOP Company (TPC) of the 10th PSYOP Battalion. After receiving a brief overview from the 362nd TPC Commander the survey party broke off in groups to conduct observations and surveys of the 362nd TPC.

On 22 November 2005, the Battalion Commander was ordered to Kabul to meet with the Joint PSYOP Task Force (JPOTF) and to survey their work environment. It was also decided that the main body was to return to CONUS as soon as possible since air movement is not reliable in-country.

Upon their return the team noted the following problems:

The 362nd Tactical PSYOP Teams were operating at a minimum of two-man teams to meet the supported units demands for PSYOP support. A team should consist of three 37Fs (Psychological Operations Specialist) and one interpreter. At the operational level this cannot always be met with limited 37Fs deployed.

Additional training is needed, such as stick-shift driving since most of the vehicles are stick shift driven. Fifty-caliber training in support of unconventional units is necessary since this weapon is used for base defense and required to have on at least one vehicle per convoy during combat operations. To be efficient and effective, soldiers need to be able to operate and be qualified on the equipment they will be expected to use down range.

The PSYOP Order of Battle

At this stage of the war in 2006, Qatar was where the Regional Special Operations Force Theater assets were. Mostly 4th PSYOP Group that was a Joint PSYOP Task Force, commanded by a rotational Full Colonel, sometimes a Lieutenant Colonel. They had “Reach Back” for heavy printing to Ft Bragg for PSYOP Development Support. They supported Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Djibouti, Somalia, Bahrain, and the United States Navy’s 5th Fleet. During 2006, the 12th PSYOP Battalion led the Combined Joint PSYOP Operations Task Force, and had Army, Airforce, the State Department, Germans, Canadian, Danish, French, Romanian, UK, and other assets working with and for them. They had Radio, Television, three Newspapers, leaflets, and DVDs. They had a Medium Heidelberg printing press, a couple of Risographs and a print team.


There were often delays in requests for printed products from Qatar. The 12th PSYOP Battalion sent requests for leaflets and posters to be produced, printed, and returned. In theory it should have worked. During the Vietnam war, four battalions and one group was supported by the 7th PSYOP Group on Okinawa and they supplied about 85% of all the billions of propaganda leaflets disseminated. Qatar was on a peacetime schedule and worked 8 hours a day, suffered from funding shortfalls and had other priorities.

Some of the products they produced did not look professional, the translations were not considered accurate, and the leaflets were deemed unusable. They also had an exceedingly difficult and timely approval process and were not always in sync with the need of the units in the field.

For instance, they also supported Iraq, Afghanistan, Djibouti, Yemen, Bahrain, and liaison officers in Pakistan and Somalia. Priority went to Special Operation Forces supported elements. Of the seven countries supported by Qatar, Afghanistan often felt like they were the 7th and last priority. The political situation of the enemy was changing faster than anyone could have anticipated impacting product development. Afghanistan often got apologies from the commanders in Qatar, they simply could not keep up with the demand. Qatar could not expand their efforts to support the needs in Afghanistan and the reach back at Ft. Bragg seemed not to understand that they were not the approval authority. Ft. Bragg tried, but just did not have the ability to help except with some technical visits.

The 2nd PSYOP Group team in Iraq was also a problem in Qatar. Members of the 12th PYOP Battalion told me:

I believe in the Army Reserve full strength battalions were about 243 people and I am not sure how many deployed with the unit. I suspect they did not reorganize their unit for the mission, and their higher command structure was different than ours. Tactical Companies had a Product Development Dissemination detachment, but I think they deployed just two companies plus a headquarters. Strategic support was by the unit in Qatar who had the analysts and the strategic task force.

We originally were both controlled by Central Command then orders were cut that sent us to Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT), Then more orders to Combined Joint Special Operations Command (CJSOTF) in Qatar, then further orders to the Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom Commanders, where we were further attached out two more times. Both battalions had many bosses, few resources, and more missions than we could handle. Plus, we both responded to an Information Operations Cell that often did not understand they were not Commanders.

I cannot speak for the other battalion, but the 12th PSYOP Battalion was put together like a Vietnam unit for manning. We had over 23 units that we drew people from, to include Active Component units to make up our CJPOTF. You try to train up but get all the fillers at the last-minute during certification of deployment tasks. At that time, 25 percent of my unit was on their 3rd deployment since 2001, and some on their 4th deployment. This number of units above does not count all the allied Forces assigned. It was hard to find people to go forward as many people were losing their civilian employment.

The Iraq Joint PSYOP Task Force and the Qatar Task force Commander did not get along from the start. The funding was probably not well understood by their commanders or staff. The Special Operations support in country was done mostly by Active Component forces, but they were assigned to the Reserve Component Task force, creating a friction point. According to subordinate staff officers, in priorities of monetary resources, product development, and mission execution, the units had an adversarial relationship. I believe it further exacerbated that the Qatar higher Headquarters was giving more support to the Special Operations forces supported units than conventional supported units.

Education, Training, and variety of assignments were critical in understanding the complex joint assignment, not to mention all the funding streams and equipment support. This continued to cause misunderstandings, requirements, and personnel replacements for Active Component units supporting Special Operations forces in Iraq. The 12th PSYOP Battalion had to deal with constant difficulties due to the multiple commands and the lack of a single well-supported concept.

On the bright side, the non-commissioned officers were excellent. Many of the NCOs executed their duties with minimal guidance. One Sergeant Major commanded a Tactical PSYOP Detachment. Another NCO coordinated the movement of all supplies, material, and personnel to the 22 different locations we worked out off around the country. A Battalion Command Sergeant Major doubled as the S-3 Operations on occasion.


The 315th Tactical PSYOP Company

In 2006, the 315th Tactical PSYOP Company was attached to the 12th PSYOP Battalion and deployed to Afghanistan. It had 11 Tactical PSYOP Teams and 3 Tactical PSYOP Detachments in support of the U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division and Special Forces units. They had the following capabilities:

Printed products – Handbills, leaflets, posters, pamphlets, stickers, banners, billboards, coming books, etc.
Audio/Visual – Loudspeakers, radio scripts, aerial broadcast scripts, DVD/VCD.
Dissemination – Leaflet drops, aerial broadcasting, radio.
Tactical PSYOP Teams – Face-to-face, product dissemination, vehicle and dismounted loudspeakers.

A 2006 Loudspeaker Mission

Some additional more-detailed information on the 2006 deployment was in a document called Psychological Task Force – Afghanistan. Some of the data included the following:

A 2006 Billboard for Afghanistan

The Psychological Operations Task Force
Six Month Statistics from 14 April 2006 to 18 October 2006:

31 leaflets drop missions.
8,240,000 total leaflets dropped. *
* Based on .24 cents per leaflet on order of 100,000, $14,000 per 500,000 leaflets.

15 Medical Civic Action (MEDCAP) and Veterinarian Civic Action (Vetcap) total missions.
7223 Total patients.

Products created from 14 April 2006 to 18 October 2006:

12 Billboards.
1 Decal.
51 Handbills.
6 Leaflets.
23 Posters
537 Radio scripts.
77 Print articles.

Products Ordered and Disseminated

25 billboards.
577,500 stickers.
2,945,500 handbills.
8,444,050 leaflets.
575,150 posters.
26,000 pamphlets.
10,000 business cards.
31,400 information cards.
45,000 Ramadan cards.
287,000 Peace newspapers.
116,000 International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) papers.

Novelty Products Disseminated

3,000 soccer balls.
10,400 school bags.
10,400 colored pencils, packs of ten.
10,400 pens, packs of ten.
10,400 notebooks.
5,000 erasers, packs of ten.
1,000 Qurans.
10,000 prayer rugs.
2,425 Afghanistan flags.


The military booklet: BUILDING BRIDGES: Commander’s Guide to Face-to-Face Communication mentions soccer balls and mentions other gifts that can help to win hearts and minds. It says in part:

In addition to deploying personnel to augment the force, the Commander can bring expendable supplies that may assist the mission. These items are intended to establish or enhance rapport with some of those deserving (or difficult) target audiences. Whether used as formal gifts or free handouts, material items may have a big impact on your success in communicating with critical target audiences…Here are a few suggestions which may be squeezed into the corner of the last pallet, or in the top of an A-bag:

Host nation flags, small American flags, soccer balls, baseballs and softballs, Frisbees, school notebook paper, coloring books, pencils/pens/crayons, old T-shirts, patches, pins, and hackeysack balls

Al-Qaida and Propaganda

Al-Qaida was also active on the propaganda front. Although the Taliban was unable to drop leaflets from aircraft, they used other means to distribute their propaganda. On October 30 a report from Kazakhstan told of three men detained for spreading leaflets that claimed that support for the anti-terrorist coalition against Afghanistan meant betrayal of the cause of Islam.

The fundamentalist party Hizb ut-Tahrir in Pakistan released a number of propaganda leaflets and statements. They included such phrases as:

the war criminal Bush is waging an unjust war on the Muslims…

and in regard to Bin Laden's guilt:

We are accustomed to America's lies and willful deception in such situations.

Osama bin Laden produced a number of propaganda videotapes that were sent to Al-Jazeera, an Arabic satellite TV news network. In his messages he claimed that the United Nations was anti-Muslim for supporting the American bombing of Afghanistan.

United States Navy SEALs discovered an al-Qaida propaganda poster showing Osama bin Laden and a civilian passenger aircraft striking the N.Y.C. World Trade Center during a search and destroy mission in the Zhawar Kili area on January 14, 2002. Despite some Muslim protestations that bin Laden was innocent of the crime, he appears to be taking credit for the terrorist act in the poster.

Pamphlets calling for armed struggle against the United States and its coalition allies were circulated among Afghan refugees in Pakistan and in Afghanistan in March of 2002. The so-called “night letters” denounce the interim Afghan government of Hamid Karzai as "traitors to Islam" and warned Afghans and others who fight alongside the Americans that they will someday "suffer the consequences."

The pamphlets sometimes include unsupported allegations that the Americans used chemical and biological weapons to kill thousands of people in last year's bombing campaign. Others include stories of personal sacrifice and so-called "miracles" in the battle against the U.S.-led coalition -- all apparently designed to inspire young Afghan males to take up the fight and to drive home the message that God is on the Taliban side.

There were reports from Kandahar in April 2002, of leaflets threatening death to parents who sent their children to school. Kandahar was the spiritual headquarters of the Taliban regime, which had severely restricted education. The Taliban had forbidden the education of young girls and boys' lessons were restricted to Islamic themes.

The following “Night Letter” was distributed by the Taliban in the Hazarjuft region of Afghanistan in 2004-5. It complements the local warlords on their bravery and piety and reminds them of the days when the Taliban ruled. Some of the text is:

Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan

To the brave warlords of Afghanistan. Peace be with you. As you know, Afghanistan is a land of brave and historical people who were first taught while still in the cradle to be brave.

Alama Shekeb Arsalan says that the Jihadists name would be forgotten in the world. But from the Pamir Mountains to Himalias land, the warlords fight for Islam and support Islam. In the last century, the Afghan warlord’s people were abused, killed and threatened by the super powers like England and Russia that tore Afghanistan into pieces. But the warlords and brave people of Afghanistan never gave up and taught their enemy a lesson. They took freedom for themselves and the poor Muslim peoples all over the world. By the kindness of God and His mercy, the young Taliban members have ruled over Afghanistan to build an Islamic environment and bring peace and Islam in Afghanistan so that 95% of the people were ruled by Islamic law.

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The Coalition responded with its own night letters. This one was produced in 2006 by units of the 12th PSYOP Battalion.

At the same time, U.S. military at Bagram air base said they found pamphlets offering rewards of up to $100,000 for the capture of any live Allied soldier and $50,000 for anyone delivered dead.

In June of 2002 posters and leaflets seeking Taliban recruits were found to be circulating along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. They pictured Osama bin Laden and had text such as:

I am alive. My friend Mullah Omar is alive. It is the duty of all Muslims to wage war on non-Muslims.

In early September leaflets appeared in Eastern Afghanistan allegedly produced by the “Secret Army of Mujahedeen.”  The leaflet is written in classical Arabic, a language few Afghans speak, and it is believed it is aimed at the Arab al-Qaida still hiding in Afghanistan.

Anti-American leaflets were distributed in the border town of Spin Boldak on 31 January 2003, asking the Afghan people to prepare for Jihad (holy war) against the U.S. forces:

Be ready for Jihad. We are going to clean the floor with the U.S. troops.

The leaflet was distributed by the Hezb-e-Islami movement of renegade warlord Gulbuddin Hetkmatyar.

As the war continued it became clear that al-Qaida had mastered the use of the “night leaflet” and television, using the al-Jazeera network to broadcast their propaganda.

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Ayman al-Zawahiri of al-Jazeera TV

This video image taken from Arab al-Jazeera satellite television depicts the al-Qaida network’s alleged number two man, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Zawahiri's ability to produce a video-taped message soon after escaping a US air strike shows that he is in close touch with Al-Qaida's propaganda arm. The video was his first appearance since a US air strike that targeted him on 13 January 2006 in Pakistan. Al-Zawahiri said he had survived the raid which he said killed “innocents.” Some of his comments included:

Butcher of Washington, you are not only defeated and a liar, but also a failure. You are a curse on your own nation. Bush, do you know where I am? I am among the Muslim masses…My second message is to the American people, who are drowning in illusions. I tell you that Bush and his gang are shedding your blood and wasting your money in frustrated adventures.

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The Taliban Leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour

Al-Zawahiri kept a fairly low profile until 2015 when the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, was declared dead and replaced by Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour. On 14 August the new Mullah accepted bayat (an oath of allegiance) from Ayman al Zawahiri and al Qaida.

The Death of Ayman al-Zawahiri

On 1 August 2022, The Washington Post reported that the United States had killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda and one of the world’s most-wanted terrorists, who, alongside the group’s founder, Osama bin Laden, oversaw the attacks of 11 September 2001. Zawahiri was killed in a CIA drone strike in Kabul over the weekend.

When U.S. forces withdrew from Afghanistan in August 2021, Biden administration officials said they would retain capability for “over-the-horizon” attacks from elsewhere on terrorist forces inside Afghanistan. The attack against Zawahiri is the first known counterterrorism strike there since the withdrawal. The strike occurred at 9:48 p.m. Eastern time on 30 July 2022. A drone fired two Hellfire missiles at Zawahiri as he stepped onto the balcony of a safe house in Kabul, where he had been living with members of his family.

The Shirpur district, owned by the Afghan Defense Ministry, was an exclusive residential area of large houses with senior Afghan officials and wealthy individuals owning mansions there. The intelligence community had tracked Zawahiri to the safe house and spent months confirming his identity and developing a “pattern of life,” tracking his movements and behavior. Intelligence personnel also constructed a model of the safe house, which was used to brief Biden on how a strike could be carried out in such a way that it lessened the chances of killing any other occupants or civilians, the official said, adding that intelligence agencies have concluded that Zawahiri was the only person killed in the strike.

The policy of the Islamic Fundamentalists is one of wearing the American forces down and destroying the morale of the American government and civilian population. Some of these points are explored by Fred Burton in an article entitled, “Jihadist Perspectives on a U.S. Withdrawal.”

Burton mentions a February 2003 message by Osama bin Laden:

We can conclude that America is a superpower, with enormous military strength and vast economic power, but that all this is built on foundations of straw. So it is possible to target those foundations and focus on their weakest points which, even if you strike only one-tenth of them, then the whole edifice will totter and sway, and relinquish its unjust leadership of the world.

In another message bin Laden discussed the importance of the media people and writers who have remarkable impact on breaking the enemy's morale. Afghanistan’s former Taliban leader Mullah Omar and his tactical commanders try not to face coalition forces in mixed battles, but rather attempt to increase the costs to the Americans by ambush and explosives in order to hasten the withdrawal of Western forces.

An al Qaida military strategist and propagandist, Abu Ubeid al-Qurashi, expounded on this concept in an article titled "Fourth-Generation Wars," carried by the organization's biweekly Internet magazine, Al Ansar, in February 2002:

Fourth-generation warfare is a new type of war in which fighting will be mostly scattered. The battle will not be limited to destroying military targets and regular forces, but will include societies, and will seek to destroy popular support for the fighters within the enemy's society…Television news may become a more powerful operational weapon than armored divisions…The distinction between war and peace will be blurred to the vanishing point.

Coalition “Black” Operations

Not much is known about the various Coalition black operations aimed at Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. That is exactly as it should be because these operations are clandestine and secret. However, on occasion news slips out and it is interesting to report that the Central Intelligence Agency, perhaps with the aid of the U.S. Army, apparently tried to smear Osama as a drinker and pedophile.

In May 2010, Two former CIA officials admitted to creating a fake video in which intelligence officers dressed up as Osama bin Laden and his Taliban pals.

During the planning for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the CIA’s Iraq Operations Group considered creating a fake video of Saddam Hussein engaged in sexual acts with a teenage boy, then flooding Iraq with copies of the tape. That plan never came to fruition because agreement on the project could not be reached between the Iraq Group and CIA’s Office of Technical Services.

However, the agency did make a video purporting to show Osama bin Laden and his pals sitting around a campfire and drinking bottles of liquor and bragging about their sexual exploits with young boys. The insurgents were played by dark-skinned CIA employees.

This reminds me of WWII when British spy chief Sefton Delmer had a fake German he called “The Chief” rant and rave over the clandestine radio about the homosexuals and pedophiles among the NAZI Party.

These CIA admissions have led to questions about the Bin Laden video found in a house in Jalalabad after anti-Taliban forces moved in. The tape featured a fat Osama laughing and joking about how he’d carried out the attacks on September 11. Despite the fact that the man in the video looks nothing like Bin Laden, the CIA declared it to be the official “9/11 confession video.”

In another tape, just before the American invasion of Iraq, Bin Laden appeared and declared himself an ally of Saddam Hussein

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The CIA Fights back with a Demonic Osama bin Laden Doll

Because of bin Laden’s popularity among the Arab people, about 2005, the CIA began secretly developing a Osama bin Laden action figure with a spare head in the form of a demonic red-faced bin Laden with piercing green eyes and black facial markings. The project was code named “Devil Eyes.”

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Darth Maul from the 1999 Star Wars Movie Phantom Menace

It seems the Japanese makers of the demonic head might have been influenced by this character from the Phantom Menace. There do seem to be some similarities.

The toymaker was Donald Levine, the former Hasbro executive and Korean War veteran who was instrumental in the creation of “G.I. Joe,” a figure that generated more than $5 billion in sales starting in 1964. Allegedly, hundreds of the toys were produced in China and sent to the Pakistani city of Karachi in 2006. The CIA disagrees and said:

To our knowledge, there were only three individual action figures ever created, and these were merely to show what a final product might look like. After being presented with these examples, the CIA declined to pursue this idea and did not produce or distribute any of these action figures

The propaganda figure was offered at auction on 20 November 2014 with a minimum bid of $2,500. The figure eventually sold for $11,879. The catalog said in part:

Scarce and nearly unbelievable prototype of Osama Bin Laden doll intended for use in Arab countries in order to dissuade children from idolizing the terror leader. The project was discontinued after the prototypes were developed, with this prototype being one of just three in existence. The doll's permanent head is a look-alike representation of Bin Laden, and comes with a removable head featuring a depiction of Bin Laden as a demon. This figure is from the estate of G.I. Joe creator Donald Levine…

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The Osama Doll in its Box

I suspect that this sale never went through because the same doll seems to have been offered again 7 months later, estimated at $5,000 with a final price of $6,250. This time the description said:

Scarce prototype of Osama Bin Laden doll intended for use in Arab countries in order to persuade children from idolizing the terror leader. This prototype was covertly designed for the CIA by Donald Levine (the creator of the iconic G.I. Joe doll) in 2005 for an ''influence operation'', intended to strategically distribute a scary depiction of Bin Laden to children, ideally to dissuade them from joining a terrorist group such as Al Qaida. The doll's permanent head is a look-alike representation of Bin Laden, and comes with a removable head featuring a depiction of Bin Laden as a ''demon'', attached to metal stand. The removable head is a frightening representation of Bin Laden, with his face painted bright red with black facial features and bright green eyes. The doll wears traditional Islamic garb, a white removable five button robe over a four button white tunic with a mock collar, with off-white cloth pants and a pair of black mock velcro boots.

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Apparently Hasbro and Levine also developed a propaganda “Snakes and Ladders” game modeled after “Chutes and Ladders” as part of their War on Terror. The game was estimated at $500 and the final price was $625. The description said:

Prototype of board game featuring prominent terror leaders such as Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, intended for use in Arab countries in order to persuade children from idolizing terrorist world leaders. This prototype was covertly designed for the CIA by Donald Levine (the creator of the iconic G.I. Joe doll) in 2005 for an ''influence operation'', intended to strategically distribute scary or perhaps comical depictions of Bin Laden and Hussein to children, ideally to dissuade them from joining a terrorist group such as Al Qaida. The project was discontinued after the prototypes were developed. Board game has blue cardboard playing surface with numbered grid and small photographs of Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden and other members of Al Qaida printed.

Taliban Propaganda

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By 2006 the Taliban abandoned open warfare in Afghanistan, but still set the occasional ambush and made use of propaganda leaflets, posters and “night-letters.” Here a Canadian soldier on patrol passes a Kandahar wall covered with various pro-government leaflets and flyers.

The Associated Press reported on 25 July 2008:

The Taliban has created a sophisticated media network to undermine support for the Afghan government, sending threats by text message and spreading the militia's views through songs available as ring tones, according to a report released Thursday.

The International Crisis Group report comes as the Islamist militia that was ousted from power in Afghanistan by the 2001 U.S.-led invasion is making a violent comeback, particularly in the country's south and east. Many of the messages come as songs, religious chants and poetry. One poem — Death is a gift — includes the phrase, “I will not kiss the hand of Laura Bush.” The Taliban movement also has a Web site, Al Emarah, or “The Emirate,” which has various domain names due to attempts to block it.

The Crisis Group adds:

The Taliban has created a sophisticated communications apparatus that projects an increasingly confident movement. Using the full range of media, it is successfully tapping into strains of Afghan nationalism and exploiting policy failures by the Kabul government and its international backers. The result is weakening public support for nation-building, even though few actively support the Taliban. The Karzai government and its allies must make greater efforts, through word and deed, to address sources of alienation exploited in Taliban propaganda, particularly by ending arbitrary detentions and curtailing civilian casualties from aerial bombing.

In spring 2009, the American military began attempting to prevent the Taliban from using radio stations and Web sites to intimidate civilians and plan attacks. American military and intelligence personnel worked to jam the unlicensed radio stations in Pakistan's lawless regions on the Afghanistan border that Taliban fighters use to broadcast threats and decrees. U.S. personnel also tried to block the Pakistani chat rooms and Web sites that are part of the country's burgeoning extremist underground. In Pakistan, Taliban leaders use unlicensed FM stations to recite the names of local Pakistani government officials, police officers and other figures that have been marked for death by the group. There are about 150 illegal FM radio stations in Pakistan's Swat Valley which allow militants to broadcast every night the names of people they're going to behead or they've beheaded. The Americans hope to block all this Taliban communication and show the people that it is the government in charge, not the insurgents.

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The New Taliban Code of Conduct

In July 2009, Al-Zazeera reported on a new Taliban “Code of Conduct” that indicated the insurgents realize that they need to win the hearts and minds of the people and that suicide attacks and the loss of life of innocent civilians does not help their cause. The small blue book, The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan Rules for Mujahedeen, with 13 chapters and 67 articles, lays out rules and tells the fighters what they can do and what they cannot do. In some ways it is like the American soldier’s “Code of Conduct” or “Rules of Engagement.” Some of the rules are:

Suicide attacks should be used only at high and important targets. A brave son of Islam should not be used for lower and useless targets. The utmost effort should be made to avoid civilian casualties…

Whenever any official, soldier, contractor or worker of the slave government is captured, these prisoners cannot be attacked or harmed. The decision on whether to seek a prisoner exchanger release the prisoner with a strong guarantee will be made by the provincial leader. Releasing prisoners in exchange for money is strictly prohibited…

If a military infidel is captured, the decision on whether to kill, release or exchange the hostage is only to be made by the Imam (Mullah Omar) or Deputy Imam.

The Mujahedeen have to behave well and show proper treatment to the nation in order to bring the hearts of civilian Muslims closer to them.

The book was allegedly issued to every fighter and talks of limiting suicide attacks, avoiding casualties among civilians and working to win the battle for the hearts of the local civilian population. The book also forbids the formation of any new militias or armed groups and calls for disbanding any group that refuses to join the main structure of the Taliban movement. Mullah Omar, the group leader, was quoted in the book as saying:

If unofficial groups or irregular battalions refuse to join the formal structure, they should be disbanded. The Mujahedeen must discrimination based on tribal roots, language or geographic background.

The Taliban now seems to have invested heavily in CDs. When the Taliban controlled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, their policies included a ban on music tapes and videos. Now the Taliban are producing their own CDs in an attempt to win the hearts and minds of Afghans. For example, one song in Pashto calls for a holy war against the infidels. It says the fight will continue until corruption is wiped out and the Taliban's version of Islamic law is restored. You can buy a CD with 50 songs for about a dollar. Since 2005, the Taliban has also been mass producing CDs and DVDs featuring footage of alleged NATO atrocities and clips of insurgents battling NATO forces.

There is also a healthy Taliban Radio Broadcast presence. Lately, the Taliban broadcasts refer to the impending withdrawal of NATO troops, scheduled for the end of 2014, as a sign of victory for the insurgents

NATO has been supporting some local radio and TV stations, but the Taliban has shifted tactics, assassinating radio personalities who oppose them. Some experts believe that in 2012 the Taliban are winning the propaganda battle in Afghanistan.

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The “Unmanly” Soviets

We should note that during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan there were dozens of anti-Soviet cartoons and leaflets. I chose one to depict that has a mother and her children at the center of a Russian firestorm of tanks, aircraft, paratroopers and helicopters. The cartoon implies that the Russians are less than real men for using such technology. The text is:

The "Unmanly" armies of the Russians

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Why Are You Not With Us?

Of course the Russians fought back with their own leaflets. At one time I had a large group of about 40 Soviet leaflets for Afghanistan that I intended to write about. The problem of course was that they were all in Dari or Pashtun and there was no way to translate them all. With great regret I gave up the concept of that story. But, to be honest, most were very long all text, dry, Communist messages. They would not have been all that exciting to read. Here is a nice cartoon leaflet, one of probably less than a half dozen in my group. This image is from the Weekly Pegasus No 38, 2018. The text is:

Why Are You Not With Us?

Homeland, people, mother, sister and wife ask you: how long are you going to disturb our peaceful life and cause bloodletting, robbery and looting in the country. The government has given us land, food and clothes and it is seeking a quite peaceful life. Everyone at your home is waiting for you. Do not trust the enemies of the country and sever your links with anti-revolution elements. Return to your home, Thank God, so that God forgives you.

The American soldier as a symbol of peace and stability

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Leaflet AFD-102c

As part of the nation-building campaign, many Coalition leaflets depicted the American soldier helping the Afghans in various ways; supplying food, educational tools and protection and security for their way of life. Leaflet AFD-102 depicts American troops handing out pencils and school supplies to Afghan children on the front, and the military might of the Coalition on the back. The text is:

Help the Partnership of Nations bring peace and stability to you.

For your protection

do not interfere with the equipment or operations of donor countries

The Americans were true to their words. They promised school supplies and in the following two photographs we depict school backpacks supplied to Afghan children to carry their books.

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A Backpack for Afghan Students

This backpack baring the flag of Afghanistan was given out by PSYOP troops to Afghan students starting about 2003. The backpack was also given in later years, in both blue and black.

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Blue and Black Backpacks distributed in Sangin, Afghanistan
Photo by J.P. Black

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Leaflet AFD-102b

This leaflet depicts four photographs of Coalition soldiers taking part in peaceful activities like marching and training. The back is all text:

For your safety, don't interfere in the Coalition nation’s Operations.

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Leaflet AFD-102d depicts the same symbol of Coalition might on the front, but the back is all text:


Citizens of Afghanistan!

The Partnership of Nations is working to bring peace and stability to this region. Help us keep you safe. Please do not interfere with military operations.

1,410,000 copies of this leaflet were disseminated by M129 leaflet bombs in the first year of the war.

The American female soldier as a symbol of peace and stability

Modern War in an Ancient Land: The United States Army in Afghanistan says about the female PSYOP troops in Afghanistan:

An often-overlooked development during this period was the growing reliance on female soldiers within Special Operations. With all Special Forces and Ranger authorizations coded for male soldiers, Army Special Forces relied heavily on female soldiers in its civil affairs, psychological operations, support, and staff organizations to engage with female civilians who made up 50 percent of the population in Afghanistan and Iraq. Recognizing the need to communicate with these individuals, Army Special Operations formed ad hoc teams of female soldiers as early as 2002 to enhance civil-military operations. By 2009, U.S. Army Special Operations Command formally created a new organization known as a cultural support team. Cultural support teams interacted with indigenous female populations when such contact was deemed culturally inappropriate if performed by a male soldier. Although like the female engagement team program for conventional units, cultural support team members were specifically assessed, selected, trained, and educated to support Army Special Operations. The cultural support teams participated in a wide spectrum of activities ranging from medical civic-action programs, searches and seizures, humanitarian assistance, and civil-military operations


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Much of the Coalition propaganda effort used children and their future safety and well-being as a theme.  The leaflets were printed in black and white and a second version with green text. The front depicts two photographs of Afghan children and the text:

Can you imagine your children with no memory of war?

The back depicts Afghan musicians and a young girl. The text is:

A new government offers new freedoms, new hopes.

My records show that in the first year of the war 230,000 copies of AFD-123 were printed and disseminated by the M-129 leaflet bomb.

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Leaflet AFD124 is similar in theme, and depicts four photographs of happy Afghans on the front and four more pictures on the back with a map of Afghanistan. This leaflet was printed in both black and white and a second version with green text. The text is:

A united Afghanistan – Peace – Prosperity

A new government of freedoms

A new government working for all Afghans

The future of Afghanistan depends on your support

My records show that in the first year of the war 200,000 copies of AFD-124 were printed and disseminated by the M-129 leaflet bomb.

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Innocent Afghans

Nearly a decade later during the consolidation and reconstruction period in Afghanistan, Coalition leaflets still depicted injured children in an attempt to rally the Afghan people to turn on the murderous Taliban. This leaflet depicts injured children and adults, an explosion and a destroyed automobile. The text is:

Innocent Afghans have suffered from the bomb makers long enough. What have you done to save your family? To give information about the bomb makers call this number - 0706 762761.

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Leaflet AFG-A2-3029P

This handbill (8.5 x 5.5-inches) has two photographs on the front and three on the back. It shows large groups of Afghan adults and youths being aided by Afghan Army or U.S, Army personnel. The text is:

Afghanistan government and Coalition forces personnel are aiding the people with humanitarian help.

The back depicts smiling American soldiers and groups of Afghans. The text is:

Attacking Coalition Forces and Humanitarian Organizations will deprive you and your family from humanitarian aid that you and your family need.

Stop the insurgent attacks by reporting to the Coalition forces.

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The Peacekeepers

This uncoded leaflet depicts an injured child on the front and at the left an Afghan on a cellphone. The text is:

Because the terrorists do not care about the victims

When you contact Public Protection your identity will not be disclosed
Be a peacekeeper; inform the security forces about any terrorist acts, so that you can make a difference between life and death.

The peacekeepers guarantee our future.

The back of the leaflet depicts various insurgents and their weapons:

The peacekeepers

Information about terrorist acts will help the security forces capture the terrorists and save our villages from their danger.
Give information about...

Stocks of ammunition
Activities of the terrorists
Safe havens of the terrorists
Networks of terrorists

You will be given a reward for your information

The Afghan that translated this leaflet said that it was poor translation by the US military. It was obviously translated from English to Pashto, and the texts were too long and verbose for those who struggle with literacy. He also said that word “terrorist” was a term used by Coalition forces and not Afghans. They should have used an Afghan word instead of “terrorist,” which is heavily used in western media.

Notice that at the bottom of the leaflet are the symbols of the Afghan National Army and the Afghan Security Police. At the top, Afghan banknotes are depicted in full color; a reminder of the rewards being offered for information.

Law and order

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Leaflet AFG-F4-3039D

Much of what the Coalition did was an inconvenience and bother to the Afghans. Here we see a soldier stopping traffic. The back of the leaflet is checkered so that it cannot be used by the enemy as writing paper or to refute the Coalition message. To explain why such actions were necessary the leaflet text is:

We stop your vehicles because the enemies of Afghanistan have been seen in this area.

The enemies of Afghanistan have attacked the defenseless people of Afghanistan and Coalition forces. We are here to help the peace-loving people and to chase, Capture or kill the criminals.

If you have any information about the enemy, please inform the local Governor, local police, the Afghan National Army or Coalition forces and take part in bringing permanent peace to your country.

The 4th PSYOP Group was quite proud of the new Afghan Police Force and the security of the people. It mentions them in 2004:

11,000 Afghan National Police recruited and trained.

Together we are Rebuilding Roads

Security Forces educated on the role of security forces in a democratic nation.

What a Good Government does for its People

Tips from Afghans on weapons caches doubled after the people were told about 52 new clinics, 153 wells, 278 schools completed, and 4 roads under construction.

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AFG-2006 Pashtu

Sometimes the criminal activity was more serious. As part of nation-building, the Coalition had to show that they would not allow theft or smuggling. The above leaflet depicts two men in handcuffs on one side and in prison on the other. The text is:

Name: Mozrunko Mecola
Crime: Oil smuggling
Court decision: Criminal
Punishment: Seven years Prison
Penalty: 2.40 million USD

Do not put yourself in prison

Name: Evan Souschencko
Crime: Oil smuggling
Court decision: Criminal
Punishment: seven years Prison
Penalty: 2.40 million USD

Natural resources smuggling is the same as stealing. Criminals will be convicted. Smugglers will receive extreme punishment from the court. The Central criminal court will convict the oil smugglers. No one can escape from the law. It’s the public’s responsibility to inform the Coalition forces about any illegal activities.

Call +97307430925

The Search for an Abducted Soldier

On 30 June 2009, a U.S. Army soldier was lost in Afghanistan. There was some question as to exactly how he was taken by the insurgents. The first story that came out was at the end of his duty day he went off with a group of three Afghan soldiers without his body armor or weapon and got drunk. At some point his friends or some other civilians abducted him and either sold or traded him to a local warlord, Siraj Haqqani, who operates in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Taliban wanted credit for the abduction so they later claimed that they had captured the soldier along with his three Afghan comrades. The Taliban claimed on 6 July that it was holding the soldier:

Five days ago, a drunken American soldier who had come out of his garrison was captured by mujahedeen.

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If you do not free the American

About 15 July, the U.S. Army began blanketing areas of Afghanistan near where he was believed held with leaflets. The leaflets were produced at Bagram Air Base and distributed in the region by hand.

Two leaflets are known. The first depicts an image of a soldier with his head bowed standing on an open hand and the text in Pashtun:

If you do not free the American soldier, then…"

The back of the leaflet depicts two heavily armed soldiers, one kicking open a door of an Afghan house. The text continues:

…you will be targeted

A second leaflet was prepared that was dropped from aircraft in Ghazni and Paktika province that tells locals that a U.S. soldier is missing and requests any information on his whereabouts.

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One of our American Guests…

The front of the second leaflet depicts a friendly U.S. soldier sitting on the ground and talking to five Afghan children. Text on the front is:

One of our American guests is missing

The back depicts the same image except that the soldier has disappeared and is only seen as a black shadow. A hand holding a cell phone has been added at the bottom of the leaflet. Text on the back is:

Return the guest to his home. Call us at 070-769-4351

Some New Aspects of the Psychological War

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AFG032 - Schooling for all Afghans

In this leaflet the Americans promise schooling for all Afghans whether boy or girl. The leaflet depicts a class of Afghan girls at the top and the flag of Afghanistan at the bottom. The text is:

Education provides great opportunities

Education has a vital role in the future of Afghanistan

I have this almost exact same image as a full sized poster, 11 x 17-inches in size. The difference is that instead of being inside in a class room, the girls are reading books outside in a courtyard. The code number of the poster is AFC 019.

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I have this almost exact same image as a full sized poster, 11 x 17-inches in size. The difference is that instead of being inside in a class room, the girls are reading books outside in a courtyard. The code number of the poster is AFC 019.

As the war stretched on into its 7th year, the Coalition searched for new ways to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. One method was increased spending. In April 2009 the US Army published The Commander’s Guide to Money as a Weapons System. The US government plans to nearly double (to $1.2 billion) the main fund military commanders in Afghanistan use to support projects intended to win the hearts and minds of the population. The money is to be spent on aid projects, such as building schools, clinics, and roads and it is hoped this will give the people more faith in their government and turn them away from the Taliban. However, the Feinstein International Center at Tufts University thinks this plan cannot be successful. They believe that in an ethnically and tribally divided society like Afghanistan, aid can also easily generate jealousy and ill will by consolidating the power of some tribes or factions at the expense of others - often pushing rival groups into the arms of the Taliban. It also fuels massive corruption, which erodes the legitimacy of the government. The Taliban exploits this sentiment, and seeks to legitimize its movement by promising better security, quick justice, and a less corrupt government, rather than more roads, schools, and clinics. They conclude:

This is not to say that the United States and other donor countries should not fund development projects in Afghanistan. But foreign aid should focus on promoting humanitarian and development objectives, where there is evidence of positive impact, rather than on promoting counterinsurgency objectives, where there is not.

On the same general subject, James E. Parker wrote an article entitled “Stirring Popular Resistance to Insurgency: Psychological Operations in Afghanistan’s Tab Ab Valley, 2008” for the Small Wars Journal, in 2009. Some of his comments are:

Inducements offered by the Coalition were solar lighting, new school buildings, water pumps, district centers, hydro-electric facilities, health clinics, and road construction all featured as enduring contributions of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams.

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Afghan National Army Master Sgt. Sediq Kamran, left, talks with Sal Jan, a U.S. Department of Defense civilian, and U.S. Army Sgt. Kartton Killebrew, with the 344th Psychological Operations Company, at Camp Lindsey, Kandahar province, Afghanistan, Oct. 28, 2010. Killebrew discussed propaganda created by his unit to express a message of peace to area residents. (U.S. Army photo by Cpl. Robert Thaler)

Curiously, the Coalition used a method first used by the British in the Malaya Emergency of 1948-1954. In that war, areas were marked “black” on a map if they were Communist controlled and “white” if they were government controlled. In the Tab Ab Valley the Coalition forces used green, yellow and red to determine the status of an area. The author talks about the methods to turn the red and yellow areas into green areas:

A rough rendering of Psychological Operations in Tag Ab is as follows. Civilians were encouraged to stand up to local insurgents: popular loathing, but not fear, was encouraged, along with concrete means, instructions, and inducements on how to safely act in opposition. Psychological Operations have proven highly capable of instilling fear, panic, and mistrust into the minds of those who cheaply trade upon the brutalization of the powerless in pursuit of a crude, brutal, and debased end-state. Moreover, PSYOP programs offer afflicted civilian populations with a means to fight back.

By 2009, improvised bombs were the number one threat to western forces in Afghanistan. The U.S. Army looked to battle the improvised explosive device (IED) threat with new armored vehicles, increased surveillance in the sky, and PSYOP.

The Information Operations division of the Army’s Combined Joint Task Force 82 sent out a call for proposals for a “comprehensive strategic marketing and information campaign” for eastern Afghanistan. The objective of this media and advertising campaign is to cause the reduction of the number of IED devices used against the Afghanistan people and Coalition forces. Commander General Stanley McChrystal said western forces were losing the battle of perception to the Taliban and the information effort must focus on “encouraging the population to assist in countering the scourge of IEDs.” Meanwhile, an Army task force is putting together a media campaign on television, radio, newspapers, billboards, and the Internet capable of influencing and informing Afghanistan about the necessity of public rejection of IEDs.

Meanwhile, the Taliban embarked on a sophisticated information war, using modern media tools to soften their image and win favor with local Afghans as they try to counter the Americans' new campaign to win Afghan hearts and minds. Mullah Muhammad Omar issued a new “Code of Conduct” directive for the Taliban in May 2009. This dictates bans on suicide bombings against civilians, burning down schools, or cutting off ears, lips and tongues. The 69-point document discusses how to treat local people, how to treat prisoners, what to do with captured enemy equipment and when to execute captives. Curiously, photographing an execution is forbidden.

The Taliban extended its propaganda efforts into the social media realm, sending its first tweet in English from the handle @alemarahweb. The account started tweeting in Pashtun on 19 December 2010. Its roughly 750 tweets detail highly exaggerated reports of strikes against the Taliban’s enemies. Starting in May, 2011, some of these tweets have been written in English. Most of them are death tolls. Despite declaring the Internet unholy and banning its use for millions of Afghan citizens in 2000, the Taliban has maintained a website since at least 2001.

The Taliban now presents itself as a local liberation movement, independent of Al Qaida. Although they once denounced Internet technology as un-Islamic, the Taliban now uses propaganda messages on cell phones and Internet videos to broadcast their message. The new public relations campaign and code of conduct may have softened some of the anger at the insurgency, which tribal leaders in the south said had begun to rally people against the Taliban.

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In 2011, more than 20 radio DJs in Paktika Province, and dozens more across the country, engaged in what the U.S. military considers a crucial operation, convincing residents in an area dominated by insurgents to embrace Afghan and NATO forces. They play hit Pashto ballads but never tell their listeners that they are broadcasting from studios on U.S. Army bases. Their job is to pause between Pakistani love songs and passages from the Koran to read about the heroism of Afghan and American forces, as well as the destruction wreaked by insurgents. In a region with one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, where the vast majority of families are unable to afford a television, 92 percent of Paktika residents listen to the radio every day.


During the Vietnam War the United States sponsored a Chieu Hoi (Open Arms) program that was dedicated to bringing enemy troops over to our side. Working with the Government of South Vietnam, the United States offered cash, education, jobs, clothes and homes to those who returned. The program was considered very successful and it is believed that over 275,000 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese regulars eventually came over to the government side.

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Afghan National Army Recruitment Poster

The posters above are a miniature version of the billboard sized ads which can be seen all along Route 1 in Kandahar City. They are part of an Afghan National Army recruiting campaign meant to strengthen the national government. The message is:

Afghan National Army - The True Defenders

Protecting our People is our Duty

There have been attempts to offer a similar program to the Taliban in Afghanistan, apparently without much success. I have been contacted on several occasions by military and civilian organizations in Afghanistan trying to determine what worked and what did not. One PSYOP officer wrote a paper based on my Chieu Hoi article that was to be used as a reference source for basic planning of a similar program in Afghanistan. A second commander wrote to say that he intended to implement the program at a tactical level. Recent news seems to indicate that although this reintegration campaign has been set into motion, a general lack of interest on the part of Coalition nations and the Afghan government seems to doom it to failure.

From about 2005 to 2010, a total of about 9,000 Taliban came over to the government side. In the first past six months of 2010, the total is believed to be just a few hundred. What went wrong? Of the millions of dollars pledged to be spent on reintegration, only $200,000 was actually spent. Employees of the Afghan Peace and Reconciliation Commission went unpaid for months. The United States promised $100 million to support reintegration programs, while Britain, Germany and Japan promised another $150 million. Meanwhile, insurgents who have changed sides in the past have been bitterly disappointed. Few have received benefits other than emergency food rations, and they cannot return to their homes for fear of reprisals from the Taliban. This reintegration campaign screams for strong leadership.

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Reintegration Hanging Pennant

The military is always looking for new media for propaganda. This very original hanging pennant was used in Afghanistan in 2005. The letters “DDR” remind of us the old Communist East Germany, but in this case indicates to all that the owner of the pennant has been properly brought back into the government fold and is a good citizen. The "DDR" stands for “Disarmament – Demobilization – Reintegration,”


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Commando Patch

An entire series of products was produced to advertise and build up admiration for the new Afghan Commando Force. This leaflet depicts the Taliban patch on the front, while in the back an armed Taliban fighter is seen targeted through a sniper’s scope. The text is:

Taliban - You cannot hide

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Commando Poster

This colorful poster depicts and Afghan commando ready for battle, a group of commandoes and a lion and helicopter in the background. The text is:

Afghan people
You are the keepers of the security and peace
You are the volunteer fighters
You have the strength of the lion

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A U.S. PSYOP Soldier with Special Operations Task Force – South puts the Afghan Information Dissemination Operation tab on the sleeve of an Afghan commando during the AIDO graduation ceremony held in 2011, at Camp Hero, Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan. The AIDO program is a four-week course that teaches commandos how to utilize information operations and counter enemy propaganda

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A Second Commando Poster

This poster depicts a Commando firing a rifle, another firing a machine gun and more troops and a helicopter in the background. The text is:

Creating a strong and mature security force.


The best of the best. The men are well trained, and equipped prepared for the most difficult and dangerous operations

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Afghan Commando with Child

This leaflet depicts an Afghan Commando with a child on his back on one side, and the child telling the commando where to find a Taliban terrorist on the other. The text is:

Commandos are in control of the enemies of Afghanistan

You must report the terrorist's acts to Afghan Security Forces at 070 676 2761

Cooperate to make a stable Afghanistan for every Afghan

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Four Taliban Caught or Killed by the Commandos

This leaflet depicts four terrorists that the Commandoes have caught or killed. It is curious that the faces have been blurred. The text is:

The Commandos are victorious once again over the enemies of Afghanistan.

Abdul Kareem, Naeem, Qari and Abdul Rahman arrested, Toran Aman Killed.

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Commando Doll

This is one of the most interesting items that have been given to Afghan children. These Commando dolls with M4 rifle and fighting knife are distributed in the villages to promote the Commandos. One wonders what happens to a child found playing with such a doll when the Taliban enters the village.

Consolidation PSYOP

As we approach the halfway point in 2011, and there is talk of the Coalition meeting with the Taliban and eventual Coalition pullout from Afghanistan; PSYOP's role has become mostly the support of the new government, what we used to call “Consolidation.” A majority of the products that are printed are intended to increase confidence in the government of Afghanistan and the Security Forces. Many of the products are printed without product numbers and are given to Afghan Security Forces to hand out. That is so the recipients think it is an Afghan product. This increases confidence in the government by giving a perception of them being capable enough to print those products.

All of the products are branded. As soon as the target audience sees them, they can recognize them as being Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police or Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, etc. The new leaflets and posters look like the old ones so it keeps the message and identification consistent. There are different taglines on the posters such as “it is our honor to protect the people,” and “we will defend our homes,” etc. Another tagline that is consistent is “The True Defenders/Protectors.” This was in response to the Taliban saying that they defended the people. For some of the Government products pictures of construction and of new buildings and things the government has provided are depicted. The main tagline on a lot of these products is “We will prosper,” and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan banner is added to each product. An example of these consolidation leaflets and posters from Kandahar province is depicted below.

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This is a handbill that shows Afghans meeting to discuss their future. The text is:

It is time to stand against intimidation

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This product was printed both as a handbill and placed on billboards. It depicts Afghan National Army troops at prayer and says:

It is time to give thanks

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Leaflet AFD6-6aa1401214

The rather blurry leaflet also encourages the Afghan people to respect their new Army. Photos show soldiers among children and parading in personnel carriers. The same image is on both sides with the text in Pashtu on one side, Dari on the other. The text is:

Afghan National Army Soldiers are working for a better future for all Afghans


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This is a banner that shows Afghan construction workers and heavy equipment. The text is:

We will prosper

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This poster was produced in response to the assassination of Police Chief Hajji Khan Mohammad Mujahid inside Kandahar Police Headquarters by a suicide bomber on 15 April 2011. The suicide bomber was wearing a police uniform and gained entrance to the building and then waited for the police chief to emerge from his office. When he did, the attacker detonated his bomb. The text is:

We will never forget

Provincial Reconstruction Teams

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The Center for Army Lessons Learned Provincial Reconstruction Team Playbook

During the Vietnam War there were teams that went into the villages to do protection, construction, medical and dental operations. This was called the Combined Action Program.

The U.S. Marines loved this concept and still believe they could have won the war if they were better utilized. While the exact implementation varied with the war and time, the basic model was to combine a Marine squad with local forces to form a village defense platoon. The Army seems less enthused and although they did have such teams, they were never supported in the way the Marines were. Speaking of the Marines, perhaps we should mention their PSYOP capabilities:

The Marines

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It seems clear that for many years the U.S. Marine Corps has wanted its own PSYOP capability. In the past many were sent to the U.S. Army’s PSYOP School at Ft. Bragg and during recent wars the Army’s 4th PSYOP Group would assign tactical PSYOP teams to Marine combat units. In past years, about 30 Marines a year attended a 17-week training course at Fort Bragg, N.C. at a cost of $12,000 per student, plus another $5,000 per Marine to obtain a required Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information clearance. Total training costs add up to more than $600,000.

About 2015 or so I was asked if I cared to lecture at a Marine PSYOP school in California. I was too old and it was too far. Then in 2017, I was asked if I cared to talk or recommend other speakers for the Marine Corps information Operations Center in Quantico, Virginia. It was clear that the Marines wanted to do it their way. They wanted to add a new primary military occupational specialty: 0521, Military Information Support Operations. There was also consideration of expanding the total number of MISO Marines from 87 to 322. The enlisted-only MOS would be composed of sergeants and staff sergeants, with a tapering senior enlisted leadership structure. Currently, the Marine Corps deploys its small community of MISO Marines in teams of two to four aboard Marine expeditionary units and its special purpose Marine air-ground task forces for Africa and the Middle East.

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Marine Osprey dropping leaflets

In January 2011, the Marines published a report entitled “Information Operations in Afghanistan, Lessons and Observations from 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) as "MEB – Afghanistan" and I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) as Regional Command – South West - March 2009 through October 2010.” That may be the longest title in history and the report has 66 references to PSYOP. I will mention a few selected ones to give the reader and idea of the Marine PSYOP use and problems in Afghanistan:

Shortfalls included limited PSYOP detachments available for support of tactical units, and a lengthy timeline for approval of PSYOP products…We require more teams in this area of operation than my detachment currently has, with five teams, one of which we created. I still require a minimum of four additional teams to fully cover the area…Unfortunately; we weren’t fully staffed with the required PSYOP detachments. We asked for them and I MEF, to this day, is still trying to get the PSYOP Company to support operations in RC-Southwest…The former NCOIC of the U.S. Army tactical PSYOP detachment (TPD) said the MEB should have been supported by at least two PSYOP detachments, and I MEF should have had a company of at least three TPDs in order to properly support the maneuver battalions in each respective unit. In Army doctrine, a PSYOP detachment supports a brigade. The MEB is a much bigger unit than an Army brigade…An 11 man USMC expeditionary PSYOP detachment provided by MCIOC arrived later that month, and was assigned to division…There is little or no PSYOP production capability at the battalion commander level, and “to get PSYOP where the battalion commanders need it, the approval and production processes require change…The U.S. Army PSYOP NCOIC attached to the MEB-A staff said Army PSYOP units are typically attached with organic equipment, to be self-supportive with the exception of food, shelter and ammunition. During the 2009 deployment to Helmand Province, this was not the case. PSYOP was equipped with up-armored HMMWVs that were not as safe or survivable as the MRAPs used by the Marines they supported. The Marines provided MRAPs for PSYOP teams to use while deployed in support of the MEB. The PSYOP teams were also equipped with Vietnam-era loud speaker equipment. Technology is so much advanced that the Army should find a way to replace the systems that PSYOP is forced to use. The Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) system is one that we field tested and was a resounding success.

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U.S. Marines distribute leaflets to some locals

What seems to be clear from the report is that the Marines want to get more involved with PSYOP and the Army does not have the capability to supply all their needs. As a result, we can expect to see the Marines greatly enlarge their own PSYOP force.

During the war in Afghanistan, the Coalition forces remembered the experience of Vietnam and authorized Provincial Reconstruction Teams. The teams were first introduced by the United States and consisted of military officers, diplomats, and reconstruction subject matter experts, working to support reconstruction efforts. PRTs were first established in Afghanistan in late 2001 or early 2002. Their purpose is to empower local governments to govern their constituents more effectively. These teams go into the villages, work with the people and are part of psychological operations and civil affairs, although they might not always state that fact. By April 2009, 42 different nations contributed troops to 26 Provincial Reconstruction teams.

The Death of Osama bin Laden

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The decade-old hunt for the elusive Osama bin Laden came to an abrupt end on 2 May 2011. The White House stated that Bin Laden, 54, was killed after a 40-minute gun battle with Black Hawk helicopter-borne Navy SEAL Team Six and CIA paramilitary forces at a 40,000-square-foot fortified compound in the Pakistan military city of Abbottabad.

Intelligence officials discovered the compound in August, 2010, while monitoring a courier that was so trusted that he was thought to be living with the Al Qaida leader. The nom de guerre of the courier was known for approximately four years, but it took another two years to determine his real name and locate him. Bin Laden had lived for about five years in the large compound with 18-foot high walls topped with barbed wire on the outskirts of town. Two security gates guarded the only way in and a third-floor terrace was shielded by a seven-foot privacy wall needed to hide his six-foot four-inch frame. No phone lines or Internet cables ran to the property. The residents burned their garbage rather than put it out for collection. Intelligence officials believed the million-dollar compound was built five years ago to protect a major terrorist figure but there was no clue as to who it was.

During the battle one American helicopter was lost but no Americans were killed. Bin Laden apparently refused to surrender and was shot in the left eye and killed. The Americans seized a collection of computer hard drives that might contain al-Qaida operational data.

After identification and the collection of DNA samples, Bin Laden’s body was flown to the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson in the north Arabian Sea. The body was washed and placed in a white sheet and then inside a weighted bag. In order not to leave a shrine that the terrorists could worship, his body was quietly buried at sea.

A sailor aboard the Vinson wrote about the operation although he admitted he saw little of it because the body was covered, and the burial scene aboard ship restricted and protected. He said in part on the website We are the Mighty:

The dreaded announcement came through the 1MC: River City. If being deployed in the middle of the ocean isn’t bad enough, try being deployed in the middle of the ocean with no comms. The unfamiliar sound of a V-22 Osprey overpowered the sound of normal flight operations. The updates kept rolling through; starting from the flight deck down to the hangar bays, everything is secured. The rumors start to flow through the grapevine. You can hear the whispers and feel the electricity in the air. Nobody has any information, but everyone knows. We got him.

The surveillance screen of the flight deck runs 24/7 on all screens throughout the airwing, but today they were all blacked out. The only channel working was CNN. The feeling was odd. We didn’t know anything that was happening except for what we were watching live on TV. We were there, yet we knew nothing. Every sailor was glued to a screen, reading the ticker and waiting for the headlines.

The rumors were confirmed: We got Osama bin Laden and his body is on our ship. The entire ship erupted like Times Square at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. We were told, “officially,” that the body was prepared in accordance with the Muslim religion: wrapped in a white garb, buried on his right side, and oriented northeast to face Mecca. Off-record, we were told that they verified his DNA and they tossed him over the side. Officially, no country would accept responsibility of the body, so it was laid to rest at sea. Unofficially, I think we didn’t want his burial site to become a martyr’s shrine.

It is interesting to note that two weeks after the raid, as information filtered out from Washington DC, it was reported that a stash of pornography was found in the hideout of Osama bin Laden. It allegedly consisted of modern, electronically recorded video and was fairly extensive. Bin Laden's compound was cut off from the Internet so it is believed that the pornography was brought in by courier. I only mention this because attacking and ridiculing an enemy leader is a common propaganda technique, so this could be a legitimate story or it could be an attempt on the part of Washington bureaucrats to attack and ridicule the fundamentalist Muslim and make him appear to be unworthy as a role model in the eyes of his followers. My first thought was that the United States was attacking bin Laden with all this talk of pornography to lower his reputation among Muslims all around the world. Later, it was discovered that the pornographic tapes were a media for the terrorists to send secret messages to each other hidden  between the pornographic scenes.

Navy SEAL Card Identifying Members of Abbottabad Compound
Undated, published by Peter Bergen and Courtesy of Christina Lamb, Unclassified.

This is a card carried by the U.S. Navy Seals who raided the Abbottabad compound. The images depict members of the bin Laden and al-Kuwaiti families. The back depicted his couriers.

In May of 2011, a 22-year-old Austrian named Maqsood Lodin was arrested in Berlin. His interrogators were surprised to find that hidden in his underpants were a digital storage device and memory cards. Buried inside them was a pornographic video called “Kick Ass” and a file marked “Sexy Tanja.”

Several weeks later, German investigators discovered encoded inside the actual video a treasure trove of intelligence, more than 100 al Qaida documents that included plots to seize cruise ships and carrying out attacks in Europe. So, if Al Qaida is hiding terrorist plans in Pornography tapes, it may be that is why they were found in Osama’s hideaway.

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Some commentators have noted that the United States has carefully released photographs of the terrorist leader that portray the Al Qaida leader in a less-than-flattering light – diminished, hunched, gray, and self-obsessed. Five short news clips released to the press were intended to humiliate the terrorist mastermind. One depicts bin Laden sitting in a small room, looking at picture of himself on a small TV, alone and desperate, not the heroic leader that his followers thought he was. Others show him with grey beard and make it clear that he vainly darkened his beard with dye when he made propaganda tapes in order to appear younger and more potent.

Six months after Bin Laden’s death in November 2011, Navy SEALs, allegedly unhappy with the White House release of facts about their raid, told their own story. Chuck Pfarrer, a former commander of SEAL Team 6, interviewed many of those who took part for his book SEAL Target Geronimo. They said that Osama Bin Laden was killed within 90 seconds of the landing in his compound and not after a protracted gun battle. The operation was so clinical that only 12 bullets were fired.

Four reconnaissance satellites were placed in orbit over the compound while SEAL Team 6, known as “Jedi,” was deployed to Afghanistan. The White House cancelled plans to provide air cover for the mission fearing it might endanger relations with Pakistan. A Prowler electronic warfare aircraft from the carrier USS Carl Vinson was used to jam Pakistan’s radar and create decoy targets. During “Operation Neptune’s Spear,” the commandos flew on two Stealth “Ghost Hawk” helicopters codenamed Razor 1 and Razor 2, followed by two Chinook helicopters five minutes behind, known as “Command Bird” and “gun platform.”

Razor 1 hovered above the main house, a three-story building where Bin Laden lived on the top floor. Twelve Seals rappelled down onto the roof and then jumped to a third-floor patio, where they kicked in the windows and entered. Bin Laden’s bedroom was along a short hall. The door opened; he looked out and then slammed the door shut. “Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo,” radioed one Seal, meaning “eyes on target.”

Two SEALs kicked in Bin Laden’s door. Inside was the Al-Qaida leader and his youngest wife, Amal, who was screaming as he pushed her in front of him. Bin Laden reached across the king-size bed for his AK-47 assault rifle. The SEALs reacted instantly; one shot hit his breastbone, the other his skull, killing him instantly and blowing out the back of his head. A sample of Bin Laden’s DNA was taken and the body was bagged. They kept his rifle. It is now mounted on the wall of their team room at their headquarters in Virginia Beach, Virginia, alongside photographs of a dozen colleagues killed in action in the past 20 years.

Bin Laden’s body was loaded onto one Chinook along with the cache of intelligence in plastic bin bags and returned to the USS Carl Vinson. The whole operation took 38 minutes.

What infuriated the SEALs was the description of the raid as a “kill mission.” One said: “I’ve been a SEAL for 30 years and I never heard the words ‘kill mission.’ It’s a Beltway fantasy word. If it was a kill mission you don’t need Seal Team 6; you need a box of hand grenades.”

The Death of other Al Qaida Leaders

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Department of State Banknote Reward Leaflet for Embassy Bombers

The United States Department of State has prepared and disseminated numerous leaflets in the form of fifty dollar bills showing wanted terrorists. Many of these terrorists were not working in Afghanistan, but they were part of the al-Qaida organization. One leaflet offers five million dollar rewards and a promise of anonymity for the arrest and conviction of six al-Qaida operatives that planned and took part in the bombing of the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998. I add this section because it was confirmed in June 2011 that the al-Qaida senior operative behind the embassy bombings, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, had been killed in a gun battle at a Mogadishu, Somalia checkpoint. He is believed to be the person that brought together al-Qaida and other terrorist movements in the Sudan and Yemen.

War Rugs of Afghanistan

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Twin Towers War Rug


An author by the name of Kevin Sudeith believes that the Afghan weavers who produced "war rugs" showing Russian weapons during their occupation of Iraq have now begun to use some American propaganda leaflets as the source for the design of their latest war rugs. Notice that this Afghan rug shows two scenes that are found on US leaflets. The first, of course, is the attack on the World Trade Center. The second is the vignette across the center of the rug with the U.S. flag, dove of peace, and Afghan flag. This is a very common symbol found on U.S. consolidation (nation-building) leaflets printed and disseminated near and after the end of the military aspect of the invasion of Afghanistan and the search for al-Qaida terrorists.

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Leaflet AFD-170

Just as on the rug, this leaflet depicts the US and Afghan flags with a white dove of peace in the center. The text on this leaflet is:

Your local leaders and United States forces unite to bring peace to Afghanistan

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Poster AFC021

The same image appears on a full-sized poster 11 x 17-inches in size. As in the case of all posters the back is checkered so the enemy cannot place their own propaganda on it. The text is:

To create peace in Afghanistan
Your national leaders have united with the American forces.

PSYOP Sergeant Mason West told me that in relation to the dove of peace symbolism in the rug: 

The rug you presented was influenced from a leaflet that was disseminated by my team members in our area of responsibility, Mazar-E-Sharif, in 2002. My Team was known as “Gator 2-3.” The unit is 345th Tactical Support Company (Airborne) stationed in Dallas, Texas. The design on the top of the prayer rug was an exact replica of one of our “Peace to Afghanistan from the American Coalition” The irony of this is that we convinced and gave all the credit to the local populous, specifically the rug shop that ran with the idea. The same rug is on display at the Pentagon.

For more information on war rugs and examples of leaflets that have inspired war rug designs, visit

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Leaflet AFD171

Leaflet AFD171 depicts for photographs of Taliban fighters on the front and four pictures of a peaceful Afghanistan on the back. The text is:

Providing information to the Partnership of Nations will free you land of terror.

The future of Afghanistan depends on your support.

5,000 copies of this leaflet were prepared at Ft. Bragg and disseminated by static line boxes in support of Task Force 11. Another 40,000 copies of this leaflet were disseminated by M129 leaflet bombs in the first year of the war.

Some Mixed Posters

In 2022, many years after I wrote this article, a veteran by the name of Mitchell De Vore sent me pictures of a group of Coalition posters printed for Afghanistan. He sent them both in the languages of Afghanistan and in English. In the old days I would only show the Pashto and Dari versions in an article like this because I wanted the reader to see what the actual poster looked like to the people who read them in the towns and villages. I would then spend several days typing the translations. Being older and wiser now, I am going to show the English version of the posters. It will be easier on your author, and the readers.

Terrorism Affects Everyone!

Rewards up to $25,000,000 USD.

There is Nowhere you can Hide.

Criminals – You will go to Jail!

Usama bin Laden


In the distant past the British invaded Afghanistan and took a terrible beating. Years later, the Soviets did the same thing with the same results. In 2001, the United States invaded and won a quick military victory, drove out the Taliban and Al Qaida and installed a democratic government. It would seem that the United States was victorious where others failed. By 2015, the United States had pulled out most of its combat troops from Afghanistan and the Taliban and various terrorist organizations vied to take control of the new government. Only time will tell if the United States was truly victorious in Afghanistan or lost the lives of approximately 2,150 soldiers in vain.

Perhaps we should study the words of British Army Chaplin G. R. Gleig, who wrote in 1843 after being one of the few survivors of the First Anglo-Afghan War:

A war begun for no wise purpose, carried on with a strange mixture of rashness and timidity, brought to a close after suffering and disaster, without much glory attached either to the government which directed, or the great body of troops which waged it. Not one benefit, political or military, has been acquired with this war. Our eventual evacuation of the country resembled the retreat of an army defeated.

Rudyard Kipling wrote of the Afghan women coming down to kill the wounded survivors of battle in The Young British Soldier.

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.
So-oldier ~of~ the Queen!

We should also mention the 2012 Rand Corporation National Defense Research Institute monograph U.S. Military Information Operations in Afghanistan - Effectiveness of Psychological Operations 2001–2010 that used many leaflets from this article to illustrate the propaganda. Rand’s conclusion was the Coalition PSYOP campaign failed:

If the overall Information Operation mission in Afghanistan is defined as convincing most residents of contested areas to side decisively with the Afghan government and its foreign allies against the Taliban insurgency, this has not been achieved.

The Defense Academy of the United Kingdom produced a paper entitled The Effectiveness of US Military Information Operations in Afghanistan 2001-2010: Why RAND missed the point that agreed with the general conclusion of the Rand Report but added its own suggestions and comments. We mention two that are particularly interesting:

During World War 1 the allies flew aircraft made of Balsa wood and fired archaic weapons across No Man’s Land. In 2012 the allies fly super-sonic stealth aircraft and deliver precision weapons from unmanned drones. In World War 1 the allies dropped PSYOP leaflets. In Afghanistan in 2012 ISAF drops PSYOP leaflets. Unlike any other current military capability, PSYOP has not evolved any substantial concept during the past 90 years.

It is our view that if there is one single reason why the International Security & Assistance Force have been unsuccessful in convincing Afghans in contested areas, we believe it to be a corporate failure to adapt PSYOP operating practices to the 21th century, instead relying upon ages-old methods of communication now proven moribund. If there is one single area more than any other in which this is obvious, it is in the over reliance of PSYOP on commercial advertising and marketing strategies – substituting NATO and the Government of Afghanistan for the ‘product’ and Afghans for the ‘consumer’.

Operation Resolute Support

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Leaflet distribution by hand

By 2017 the vast majority of U.S. Troops had left Afghanistan and the new government had its own army and police to keep order. Yet, the Taliban still existed and other terrorist groups were trying to make inroads into the fractured nation. To help in the consolidation and stability of Afghanistan, Thirty-nine nations contributed forces to the NATO Resolute Support Mission. They train, advise, and assist the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces working to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan. Above, a soldier from 207th Afghan National Army Corps informs the population about their efforts to secure Farah province from all the enemies of Afghanistan through Operation Khalid.

A Tenuous Peace Treaty

In February of 2020, as the war slowly staggered on, the United States and the Taliban agreed to try a 7-day truce as an experiment. If this trial truce was successful, the two sides in the long 18-year war would work toward a lasting peace treaty. In the past, the problem has been that as the Taliban pulled back, other Jihadist and fundamentalist Muslim terrorist groups had moved forward with more attacks so it was hard to tell if the truce was working or failing. In 2019, the U.S. used more than 7,000 bombs and missiles against the insurgents and the Taliban and its allies carried out about 25,000 attacks. In 2020, the U.S. still had about 13,000 troops in Afghanistan.

On 28 February 2020 with the truce seemingly holding, President Donald Trump said that he's dispatching the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to sign an agreement with the Taliban in Afghanistan aimed at beginning a drawdown of thousands of U.S. troops and ending America's 18-year involvement in the war. It's been previously reported that the signing would occur 29 February in Doha, Qatar. The United States displaced the Taliban and Mullah Omar, killed bin Laden, spent 750 billion dollars and lost thousands of troops to death and injury. Now, after 18 years of war it appears that the Taliban will return to power with America’s blessings. If the Taliban meets their commitments and manages not to attack or kill any Americans in the next 14 months, the entire force of 13,000 U.S. troops will be withdrawn.


The Russians Withdraw from Afghanistan

Like numerous other countries that had unsuccessfully invaded Afghanistan over the centuries, in 1988 the Soviet Union pulled their defeated forces out of country. Trying to put a “happy face” on the retreat, they showed the Afghan people waving and throwing flowers as the Russians smiled and returned the waves as they scurried back over the border. A very positive image that hardly matches the hatred of a very nasty war. My translator said that the text was hard to translate because some of the words are usage was unfamiliar. To the best of his ability, he said the leaflet text was:

Document of Good Faith

After diligent pursuit and consultation, the government of the time and several trusted individuals have come forward. This announcement from the inhabitants of the province reflected their allegiance and the strength of their nation.

Despite the negative aspects, their actions did not lead to anarchy. The state, which was established to counter the influence of the Soviet Union, had declared on many occasions its willingness to concede parts of its northern Afghan territory under the governance of the local regime.

This signifies their readiness for a peaceful resolution and reform, in the context of the situation within and around Afghanistan. This act clearly shows goodwill, effective control, respectful diplomacy, and a passionate desire to consolidate and develop people's rule in the country.

Long live the indomitable spirit of the Soviet-Finnish [?]alliance! Long live the revolution of Samand Thor!

The author encourages readers who may have additional information or personal experiences with psychological operation during Operation Enduring Freedom to write him at