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How the US used psychological operations to defeat ISIS units

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Psychological Operations - How the US used psychological operations to defeat ISIS units

As U.S. troops prepare to depart from Syria, reports begin to emerge that describe how the military managed to drive back ISIS and reduce it to a small shadow of its power. Aside from the importance of air power and the involvement of Special Operations Forces (SOF) in support of Iraqi, Kurdish, and Syrian rebel forces, Psychological Operations (PSYOP) formed a considerable part of the American strategy.

According to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by The Drive, the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) used 25 audio messages to demoralise ISIS fighters and encourage them to defect or retreat. Local languages and dialects were used.

The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) didn’t disclose the methods of broadcasting. It could have been transmitted by EC-130J Commando Solo, dropped in the form of leaflets by other aircraft, broadcast by speakers mounted on Humvees, or by other, more covert, methods.

Some of the messages tried to sow division between local and foreign ISIS fighters:

“I don’t know whether to laugh at you or pity you, Brother. You joined Da’esh to fight and be part of something. But look! The foreign fighters get paid more than you; they get better food, better places to live, and the spoils of war. What do you get? Honestly, my friend, you have been cheated! Da’esh would be nothing without you, and look, you are barely treated better than they would treat a nonbeliever, and enemy prisoner. Is this what you signed up for?”

Others tried to spread tactical confusion among the different ISIS units:

“Fall back!  They are everywhere! (Pause w/ static) Why is no one answering me? You need to move back! We cannot hold our position if you do not fall back you will be overrun! (Pause w/ static) If you can hear me fall back, I cannot hear you. You must fall back now or you will be killed! Is there anyone there? (Static that fades out).”

And yet others contained constant crying noises.

PSYOP fall under the umbrella of Information Operations (IO) and can happen in the tactical, operational, or strategic level. Further, PSYOP missions can be categorised as White, Grey, or Black depending on the U.S. footprint. Let’s break down the three colour categories in hypothetical examples:

First, an American patrol somewhere in Afghanistan stops at a village to rest and gain information. As Afghan villagers flock to the patrol, the soldiers hand-out leaflets that support the Afghan Government and condemn the Taliban. This would be labelled as White.

Second, the U.S. Government wishes to improve its standing in a country of interest (for instance, Iran or Turkey), PSYOP personnel would work with the intelligence agencies, the CIA, most usually, to contract locals to produce a movie or television show that portrays America in a favourable manner. This would be labelled as Grey.

Third, Iran is amid an election campaign.  An Iranian non-government organisation (NGO) posts several messages on social media. The posts attack the Iranian Government over its policies that have marginalised the country from the international community and have brought great suffering to the Iranian people. The NGO, however, is a creation of American intelligence agencies. And yet it’s untraceable back to the U.S. Government. This would be labelled as Black.

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How a secretive special ops unit decimated ISIS

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illustration echo company - How a secretive special ops unit decimated ISIS

As the Islamic State’s physical caliphate narrows to nothing after an almost five-year campaign led by U.S. special operations forces, military insiders say one small specialized unit has killed more of the extremists than any other: the company of Gray Eagle drones in the U.S. Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.

Author: Sean Naylor (Yahoo News)

Although the military has thrown a cloak of secrecy over its operations, the unit — officially called E (or “Echo”) Company of the regiment’s Second Battalion and established less than a decade ago — is increasingly being lauded in special operations and Army aviation circles.

“They are doing the most killing of anyone in the national mission force,” said a former 160th officer, referring to Joint Special Operations Command, which runs counterterrorism task forces in Afghanistan, and does battle against the Islamic State in Iraq, Syria and the Horn of Africa. “They’re out there doing the nation’s bidding in a ferocious way.”

Echo Company is credited with “well over 340 enemy killed in action” in Afghanistan and the Iraq-Syria theater between August 2014 and July 2015, according to a November 2015 Army write-up of an award for the unit. The company has also played a key role in a special operations task force established in Iraq in 2014 to roll back the Islamic State’s physical caliphate and hunt its leaders. Flying from a base in Iraq to attack targets in Syria, the drone company has launched “more than a thousand” Hellfire missiles in the last two to three years, the former 160th officer told Yahoo News. “That means to me they’ve been very busy in Syria.”

Echo Company’s achievements are remarkable, in part, because unlike the Air Force, whose drones are operated from air-conditioned trailers in Nevada and flown by officers, the pilots in this Army aviation company are mainly enlisted soldiers who are deployed in combat theaters.

“Echo Company [is] the most lethal company in the Army, and it may very well be the most lethal company-size element in all of [the Defense Department],” Brig. Gen. John Evans, at the time the head of U.S. Army Special Operations Aviation Command, told attendees at the aviation association’s conference in April 2017.

The record still holds today, according to a retired senior Army aviation officer. “This is the most lethal Army unit this year,” he said. “The whole Army, including artillery, including everything.”

One of the few Army units that fly fixed-wing aircraft, the company apparently has been more lethal than its Army helicopter counterparts and all Air Force fixed-wing outfits, manned and unmanned. Even in Joint Special Operations Command, the secretive organization that includes special mission units like Delta Force and SEAL Team 6, Echo Company’s performance stands out, according to those familiar with its operations.

More about Echo Company can be found here.

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The U.S. Military’s Next Super Weapon: Tactical Tunnels

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us military soldier - The U.S. Military's Next Super Weapon: Tactical Tunnels

The Japanese used them on Iwo Jima to ambush American soldiers. So did the Viet Cong, forcing American “Tunnel Rats” to ferret them out. North Korea and Iran use them today to protect their nuclear weapons programs, while ISIS tunnels have been a deadly thorn in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Even Israel has discovered Hezbollah and Hamas tunnels penetrating beneath its borders.

But in the spirit of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” the U.S. military wants to build its own tunnels on the battlefield.

The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA)’s Project Underminer aims to “demonstrate the feasibility of rapidly constructing tactical tunnel networks that enable secure, responsive resupply,” according to the DARPA program announcement.

It’s not that the United States lacks tunnel knowhow. American industry knows how to build tunnels for everything from highways to utilities. The Pentagon devotes considerable effort today to developing technology to detect and destroy tunnels.

But what is lacking is expertise in building battlefield tunnels. “No DoD Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) includes offensive tactical tunneling, nor does any technology or equipment support tactical tunnel creation or exploitation,” DARPA explains. “In addition, current tunneling operations primarily rely on exploratory bores and above ground guidance beacons, both closely-coupled with human operators to guide drilling/boring routes. Underminer will create aggressive tunneling approaches, downhole sensing, and operations concepts that surpass these limitations. A tactical tunnel network could provide secure logistics support infrastructure, enabling concepts of operations (CONOPS) such as pre-positioning supplies in advance of an operation or providing ongoing resupply as troops move through an area. The ability to rapidly bore tactical tunnels could be helpful in contingency operations such as rapid ammunition resupply, rescue missions, or other immediate needs.”

Hence Project Underminer, a fifteen-month, $11 million programs. DARPA will evaluate the feasibility of boring or tunneling methods in terms of “diameter, speed, length, depth, branching, bend radius, accuracy, structural integrity, and infrastructure/logistics constraints.”

Tactical tunnels offer several advantages. They would allow U.S. troops to cut loose from forward operating bases (FOB) and the vulnerable supply lines that sustain them. They also add another dimension—a subterranean one—to the battlefield that troops can exploit.

DARPA specifies various minimum thresholds: a tunnel length of 500 meters (547 yards), a bore diameter of 100 millimeters (4 inches), and a tunneling speed of 0.1 meters (0.11 yards) per second that DARPA says is twenty times faster than current standards. While this doesn’t sound like a recipe for the industrial-sized tunnel complexes of Iran and North Korea, it does seem closer to the sort of tunnels that the Viet Cong used to move unseen on the battlefield.

Interestingly, DARPA only describes tunnels as a means of resupply. There is no indication that American troops will crawl underground, even though that would be the logical next step. Yet DARPA does casually mention that tunnels could be used during rescue missions, which suggests that troops could escape through them in an emergency.

Also interesting is that DARPA wants tunneling technology that can avoid “artificially buried obstacles.” Presumably, those artificial obstacles include whatever the enemy will stick into the ground to hamper American tunnellers, such as IEDs. Tunneling may be useful, but it’s still dangerous.

Which illustrates the disadvantage of tunnels: they are an expensive and awkward means of transportation. That the U.S. military feels a need to go subterranean is evidence that operating above-ground has become too dangerous.

Nonetheless, there is poetic justice to Project Underminer: after decades of having tunnels used against them, U.S. troops will have a chance to use tunnels against the enemy.

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