“Truth is the best PSYOP.” — Col. Fred W. Walker, USAF, Director of Psychological Operations and Civil Affairs, USSOCOM
Activated on Nov. 7, 1967, the 4th Military Information Support Group (Airborne), formerly the 4th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne), is the longest serving psychological warfare unit in the Army. Based at Fort Bragg, N.C., and part of United States Army Special Operations Command(USASOC), the ranks of 4th MISG (A) include regional experts and linguists who understand political, cultural, ethnic, and religious subtleties. It has conducted military and humanitarian operations in Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Grenada, Somalia, Haiti, and Panama.
Its motto is Verbum Vincet (“The Word Will Conquer”) and according to its mission statement, the unit “is to deploy anywhere in the world on short notice, and plan, develop, and conduct Civil Affairs and Psychological operations in support of Unified Commanders, coalition forces, or other government agencies as directed by the National Command Authority.”
Psychological Operations (PSYOPs), now known as Military Information Support, is the dissemination of truthful information to foreign audiences in support of U.S. policy and national objectives. This includes not just demoralizing and defeating enemy troops without the use of physical force, but also “winning the hearts and minds” of the local civilian population.
U.S. military psychological operations can be divided into three categories: Strategic PSYOP, Tactical PSYOP, and Consolidation PSYOP. Strategic PSYOPs are big-picture efforts with long-term objectives, directed at large audiences or influential individuals and institutions. Tactical PSYOPs are the “nuts and bolts” operations that specifically target smaller groups and with localized objectives. Tactical PSYOP goals range from inspiring indigenous support to degrading the morale of enemy troops prior to combat action. Consolidation PSYOPs is a postwar effort and is directed at “winning the peace.” Consolidation PSYOPs assist civil and military authorities in consolidating their gains, establish and maintain law and order, and help in the transition to a stable new civil government in an occupied or liberated area.
The key in all three types of PSYOPs is getting to thoroughly know the enemy or targeted population. The lack of doing such homework can backfire, sometimes in ludicrous ways. One of the best recent examples of high quality and maladroit PSYOPs efforts occurred during Operations Desert Shield/Desert Storm.
In the tradition of Japan’s “Tokyo Rose,” Germany’s “Axis Sally” and “Lord Haw Haw,” and North Vietnam’s “Hanoi Hanna,” Iraq’s Ministry of Information during that conflict conducted radio propaganda broadcasts targeting American and Coalition troops assembling along the Saudi Arabia border. The hosts, a man and a woman, soon got the nicknames “Iraqi Jack” and “Baghdad Betty.” But unlike their World War II and Vietnam War predecessors, Iraqi Jack and Baghdad Betty clearly did not know their American audience. The extent of their ignorance of American culture was revealed in one broadcast in which Baghdad Betty told the American troops, “While you are here your wives and girlfriends are dating American movie stars like Tom Selleck, Paul Newman, and Bart Simpson.”
In contrast, 4th PSYOP Group (A), as 4th MISG (A) was then known, conducted one of the most effective campaigns in the history of PSYOPs warfare. Utilizing loudspeakers attached to a UH-1N helicopter and with gunship escort, a tactical team from the 9th PSYOP Battalion flew over the Iraqi garrison on Failaka Island off the coast of Kuwait. The team repeatedly broadcast a message to the Iraqi troops calling for them to surrender the following day and describing how to prepare themselves. The message promised that if they did as instructed, no one would be killed or hurt. The next day, an assault force of U.S. Marines landed on the island and found 1,405 Iraqi soldiers and their commanding general standing in formation as instructed. The island was taken without a shot being fired.
Elsewhere, 4th PSYOP Group (A) made extensive use of broadcast media, particularly radio with its “Voice of the Gulf” network, loudspeakers, and leaflet drops. Themes included Arab brotherhood, allied air power, Iraqi isolation, and Saddam Hussein’s callous disregard for their lives. During a seven-week time frame, a total of 29 million leaflets containing more than 100 different messages were dropped over Iraqi units. It was estimated that the leaflets reached about 98 percent of the 300,000 Iraqi soldiers. A study conducted by the International Red Cross reported that about 87,000 Iraqi troops who peacefully surrendered had at least one of the leaflets.
During Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm, the unit proved Sun Tzu’s adage, “To subdue the enemy without fighting is the supreme excellence.”