Published on 24 Feb 2011 Sections , ,

Afghanistan: Did US psy-op teams manipulate Senators?

The Commander of US forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, is to investigate allegations that military psychological operation teams were deployed against US politicians, reports Sarah Smith.

Targetted? Senator John McCain (Getty)

The Pentagon is not denying reports in Rolling Stone magazine that military psychological operation teams were used to target American Senators and Congressmen when they were visiting Afghanistan.

All the Defense Department is saying is that it will order an investigation and that: “It would be inappropriate to comment any further at this time”.

This is monstrously embarrassing for the Pentagon – not least because it is completely illegal to conduct any kind of psy-op campaign against American citizens. Conducting one against some of the country’s most senior lawmakers is obviously considerably worse.

Rolling Stone says the list of targeted visitors is long. Including Senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Jack Reed, Al Franken and Carl Levin.

“What do I have to plant inside their heads?” Reported comments of Lt Gen William Caldwell about visiting US Senators

I spoke to one of those Senators today – he says that he was not aware of anything unusual going on when he visited Afghanistan last year. Does that mean that the psy-ops team was brilliantly subtle or totally ineffectual?

Lt General William Caldwell was in charge of training Afghan officers to take over security operations – an effort which is vital to the US strategy in Afghanistan but one which has not been going very well.

Caldwell wanted to persuade visiting lawmakers to send him more troops and more funds for his training operation. So he asked his psy-ops team to help him work out how to secretly manipulate his visitors.

“What do I have to plant inside their heads?” he is said to have asked the leaders of the “information operations” team.

That same team leader – Lt Col Michael Holmes – is quoted as saying: “My job in psy-ops is to play with people’s heads, to get the enemy to behave how we want them to behave”.

‘Taking it seriously’

Senator Jack Reed says he is taking the accusation very seriously and expects the Pentagon to do the same, while Senator Carl Levin says that he has always been in favor of committing as many troops as possible to help train Afghan security forces.

“I have never needed any convincing on this point,” he said in a statement. “Quite the opposite, my efforts have been aimed at convincing others of the need for larger, more capable Afghan security forces, and that we and NATO should send more trainers to Afghanistan, rather than more combat troops.

“I am confident that the chain of command will review any allegation that information operations have been improperly used in Afghanistan.”

So it would appear this psy-ops campaign was as unnecessary as it is embarrassing. And it won’t help Lt Gen Caldwell get the extra $2billion he is currently asking from Congress to pay for the training of more Afghan troops.