Gulf War Facts on the Effectiveness of PSYOP

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The Gulf War brought a whole new meaning to the use of multimedia in psychological operations. Radio and TV broadcasts, leaflets, and loudspeakers used the themes of Arab brotherhood, allied air power, and Iraqi isolation to induce large numbers of enemy soldiers to desert. One of the most effective tactics involved the dropping of leaflets on a particular unit, informing it that it would be bombed within twenty-four hours and had to surrender to avoid destruction. Over a seven-week period, 29 million leaflets were disseminated, reaching approximately 98% of the 300,000 troops. Click here for some examples of the over 100 varieties of Gulf War leaflets.

The 4th PSYOP Group began broadcasting the "VOICE OF THE GULF" radio network which on 19 January 1991. It operated continuously through 1 April 1991 with more than 210 hours of live broadcasting and 330 hours of prerecorded programs. A total of 2072 news items were aired along with 189 PSYOP messages. The VOICE OF THE GULF network consisted of a 50 KW AM transmitter located at Abu Ali, Saudi Arabia broadcasting on AM 1134; a 10KW AM transmitter located at Qaisumah, Saudi Arabia broadcasting on AM 1179; a 1KW FM transmitter located at Qaisumah, Saudi Arabia broadcasting on FM 87.5 and two Volant Solo EC-130 aircraft of the 193rd Special Operations Wing broadcasting on AM 690 and FM 88.5 and 87.9.

Of course like some of the other big wars, Iraq chose to use a woman, "Baghdad Betty", to conduct propaganda broadcasts to deter and disillusion their enemy. Unfortunately for Iraq, they forgot that a truly effective psychological warfare program must have the input of highly-qualified clinical psychologists "who specialize in the unconscious dynamics of human behavior and motivation'' and who are knowledgeable about the "values and customs of different cultures.'' Such expertise is essential to the "selection of a culturally appropriate and effectively persuasive concept and value-based theme" that is the heart of any PSYOP. In one of her first broadcast Baghdad Betty warned the American soldiers listening that while they were in the desert of Saudi Arabia, their wives and girlfriends were sleeping with Tom Cruise, Tom Selleck and Bart Simpson. Now it was ridiculous enough to infer that our wives and girlfriends would be seduced by two movie stars but by their failure to do thorough research on the American culture, Betty lost any chance of credibility by telling our servicemen that a cartoon character was seducing our women back home.

During Desert Storm the 4th PSYOP Group fielded 71 Tactical loudspeaker teams. These teams provided support to USARCENT (both XVIII Airborne Corps and VII Corps), USMARCENT and USSOCCENT. Loudspeaker teams broadcast surrender appeals, harassment and deception tapes. Most loudspeaker teams had Saudi Arabian, Egyptian or Kuwaiti linguists attached to execute live broadcasts as the situation dictated. Loudspeaker teams were also innovatively employed for prisoner control at the EPW camps with broadcasts designed to accomplish prisoner pacification and underscore Military Police authority.

One of the best examples of the successful use of loudspeakers occurred during the Gulf War. The allied coalition effectively isolated, both physically and psychologically, a large element of Iraqi forces on Faylaka Island. Rather then reduce the island by direct assault, a tactical PSYOP team from the 9th PSYOP Battalion, aboard a UH-1N helicopter, flew aerial loudspeaker missions around the island with cobra gunships providing escort. The message told the adversary below to surrender the next day in formation at the radio tower. The next day 1,405 Iraqis, including a general officer, waited in formation at the radio tower to surrender to the Marine forces without a single shot having been fired.

The coalition forces developed a videotape, called "Nations of the World Take a Stand", that showcases the coalition's military might. The video was circulated throughout the Middle East, and more than 200 copies were smuggled into Baghdad.

Col. Rick Armstrong, commander of the 1st Cavalry Division's 312th Military Intelligence Battalion during the Gulf War, agreed the leaflet campaign was very effective.

For Iraqi soldiers predisposed to lay down their arms, the leaflets told them how to approach U.S. troops and assured them of fair and humane treatment, which they believed to be true, he said.

"My interrogators processed close to 1,800 line-crossers from mid-January through the end of February. A large number (of those surrendering) were carrying the leaflets . . . On the eve of the ground campaign, we had whole units crossing the border," Armstrong said. His unit was on the Saudi-Iraqi border north of Hafar Albatin.

The August 1997 issue of Association of the United States Army Landpower Essay Series titled Psychological Operations in August 1997 Desert Shield, Desert Storm and Urban Freedom by Jeffrey B. Jones and Jack N. Summe states:

Other indicators of success of the PSYOP mission during the Gulf War:

  • Extensive Iraqi concerns about Kuwait airspace penetration prior to hostilities generated by leaflet operations. In fact, the US Coalition aircraft never penetrated Kuwait/Iraqi airspace until after the beginning of hostilities;
  • repositioning of Iraqi units based on U.S. deception leaflet operations;

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Iraqi III Corps commander's 20' x 30' sand table

  • the Iraqi III Corps commander's 20' x 30' sand table found in Kuwait City depicting virtually all enemy (coalition) avenues of approach coming from the sea;
  • the massive numbers of Iraqi desertions (over 44 percent of Iraqi units in the Kuwait Theater of Operations) prior to and during the war;
  • Iraqi leaflet and information campaigns to counter coalition leaflet operations and confiscation of their soldiers' personal radios;

    Iraqi chain of command reports to their soldiers that coalition leaflets were contaminated by chemical agents;

    The Iraqi command confiscated their soldiers' personal radios. Presumably they were listening to U.S. propaganda broadcasts.

    Iraqi prohibitions against carrying or having a coalition leaflet and Iraqi death squads operating between the Iraqi and coalition fronts to stop and assassinate defecting Iraqi soldiers;

  • Iraqi EPW reports of listening to coalition broadcasts for "true" programming;
  • Iraqi "Mother of All Battles" broadcasts changing frequencies to counter coalition broadcasts, and the jamming of the "Voice of the Gulf';
  • Ninety-eight percent of all EPWs having seen or possessed PSYOP leaflets and taken the action the leaflets encouraged - e.g., deserting, defecting, abandoning equipment, or surrendering;
  • Fifty-eight percent of all enemy prisoners of war reported listening to coalition broadcasts and said they trusted them as truthful. Eighty percent of those followed the instructions encouraged by the broadcast.
  • Thirty-four percent of all enemy prisoners of war reported hearing loudspeaker broadcasts, and more than half of those followed the broadcasts' instructions.

How successful was the US PSYOP campaign in Desert Storm? During the war, more than 17,000 Iraqi troops defected into Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and 44 percent of the Iraqi military deserted. The International Red Cross reported that nearly 87,000 Iraqi soldiers turned themselves over to coalition forces, most of them clutching the leaflets or hiding them in their clothing. These proved the PSYOP mission's worth and saved countless enemy and coalition lives.

All incidents of surrender were bloodless. Perhaps the best testimony to the effectiveness of PSYOP was given by an Iraqi General when he stated that:

PSYOP...was a great threat to troop morale, second only to the coalition bombing campaign.

The 4th Psychological Operations Group received the Meritorious Unit Commendation award for its contribution during the Gulf War.

The 193rd Special Operations Wing received the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award (AFOUA)for its contributions during the Gulf War.