Magazine article National Defense

Soft Power

Magazine article National Defense

Soft Power

Article excerpt

U.S. special forces target hearts and minds

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines - The convoy was about to depart a free medical clinic when two pre-teen boys who spent their days picking through garbage ran up and told authorities about the suspicious looking rice sacks with wires sticking out that lay nearby.

In the convoy of Filipino soldiers, doctors and nurses were about 30 Americans who were participating in a civil affairs mission to spread goodwill in an area that had traditionally supported Muslim separatists.

The boys had seen a poster describing roadside bombs and remembered that there were rewards for those who tipped off authorities to their whereabouts.

The convoy was halted, the bombs rendered harmless, and the boys would receive about $4,000 each and a scholarship to finish school.

The poster the boys had seen were part of an information campaign designed by a U.S. special forces military information support team, better known as psychological operations. Civil affairs teams had organized the free clinic

These two lesser known missions designed to win the "hearts and minds" of local populations - are being increasingly recognized as an important tool for combating terrorism.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates expounded on the use of so-called "soft power" to achieve U.S. objectives. "One of the most important lessons from our experience in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere has been the decisive role reconstruction, development, and governance plays in any meaningful, long-term success," Gates said.

"It is just plain embarrassing that al Qaida is better at communicating its message on the Internet than America," he added.

Some have touted the operation in the southern Philippines as a model of an effective civil affairs and psy-ops campaign. Shortly after Operation Enduring Freedom began in 2001, U.S. special operations forces came to the area to advise and assist the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Officials here said the operation is needed in order to counter terrorist organizations such as the Abu Sayyaf Group and Jemaah Islamiyah, which have targeted westerners - Americans and friendly national governments.

Stabilizing the Philippines is critical to maintaining a safe and secure Soudieast Asia, which is one of the United States' strategic security objectives, officials said.

"This is a different mission than any other I've been on," said Maj. Chris Polites, commander of F-company 97th civil affairs battalion, 95th brigade, based at Ft. Bragg, N.C. There is a "long-standing relationship with the Philippines, and that's different from any other theater."

Despite the recognition that bullets and bombs alone aren't going to win the socalled global war on terrorism, some experts have said the Defense Department has been slow to recognize the importance of these "indirect" effects.

Authors David Tucker and Christopher J. Lamb in a recent book, "United States Special Operations Forces," contended that civil affairs and psychological operations units are poorly understood, often underutilized, "less valued" and "neglected by Special Operations Command leadership."

That is not the case in the Philippines where these two esoteric specialties are being given credit for much of the success.

The AFP is taking the cue and quickly beefing up its own capabilities. In October, it established the National Development Support Command, a non-combat, nonregional civil engineering operation. And mass communications graduates from Filipino universities are being recruited into the military to help the armed forces deliver its messages.

In the past, bullets were seen as the only way to battle an insurgency. Military operations simply aggravated the situation, created ill-will, and the cycle of violence continued for decades.

Capt. Abdurasad Sirajan, a former member of the Moro National Liberation Front separatist group, who joined the Philippine army after that organization entered a peace agreement in 1996, said the AFP now recognizes that it needs to engage in the batde of ideas. …

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