The views presented in this article are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the HTS, TRADOC, or DA
Modern counterinsurgency (COIN) is conducted in a complex and multifaceted global information environment that is impossible to control and provides advantages to asymmetric adversaries. In the war of ideas over the allegiance and support of the population that is at the heart of COIN, insurgents have the distinct advantage of being physically, mentally, and culturally embedded in the population. This new information environment and the nature of COIN created significant challenges for information operations (IO) in Iraq. Insurgents' information and cultural advantages empower them by negating their lack of resources and leveraging their cultural strength while negating our resource strengths and multiplying our cultural weaknesses. Human Terrain System (HTS) Teams at the tactical level can help confront both of these challenges.
We present a simple methodology based upon cultural domain analysis in targeted populations and thematic analysis of insurgent propaganda to develop culturally resonant IO themes that counter insurgent ideologies. This methodology was originally fielded in Mosul, Iraq, in 2010 to help counter the rising influence of Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Results from this study are presented as are lessons learned for HTS support to IO during COIN are discussed.
The Problem: IO in Iraq
The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have high-lighted the difficulties of conducting IO in asymmetric environments. IO is widely recognized as being central to a COIN fight and successful IO has been shown to be a central element of insurgent victories in past conflicts. (1) From the strategic to the tactical level, counterinsurgencies are struggles over ideas and perceptions. Inadequacies in U.S. IO in Iraq became apparent from the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. (2) Much of this inadequacy was due to the inability to understand the cultural environment which provided the context of IO. (3)
Within this complex information and cultural environment, U.S. IO sought to bolster the legitimacy of the Government of Iraq (GOI) and the political process while discrediting the insurgents.
While these objectives were clear, finding messages and wording that "resonated with the hopes, desires, and fears of the population" proved elusive. (4) Critics of U.S. IO in Iraq point to the inability to truly understand target populations and to rely too much on IO themes that sound reasonable from our perspective. This led to what some have identified as "mirror-imaging"-projecting our own assumptions and beliefs onto the population. (5)
To combat these deficiencies, Bilingual/Bicultural Advisors (BBAs) were employed widely throughout Iraq to add cultural fluency to IO. While BBAs play an important role in interpreting the cultural landscape and developing appropriate IO themes they also have important limitations. BBAs are not trained in scientific methods to interpret public opinion and often rely on outdated cultural information. The authors met with over a dozen BBAs throughout Iraq. Their stories were very similar. Most were born and raised in Iraq and speak fluent Arabic. They left Iraq anywhere from 10 to 30 years earlier. They are viewed as the cultural experts because they speak the language and were born into the culture. While their insight is important, it must be …