More from the Afghan Communications Front

September 29, 2009 at 9:43 am 6 comments

General Stanley McChrystal

Gen. McChrystal

June 26, 2010: Read my post on Gen. McChrystal’s Rolling Stone article and resignation: McChrystal and the Year of Bad Public Relations.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. forces and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, has submitted his “Commander’s Initial Assessment” on the Afghan war to Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Nine pages of the 65 page report (redacted version) are dedicated to strategic communication.

The Washington Post summarizes Gen. McChrystal’s assessment of communications in the Afghanistan theatre and recommendations for improvement. Most critically, he declares, “The information domain is a battlespace.” He calls for better integration and synchronization of communication activities, reinforcing Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen’s insistence that “strategic communication” not be a detached entity.

Additional communications objectives for Gen. McChrystal include:

  • Discredit and diminish insurgents and the extremist allies’ capability to influence attitudes and behavior in AFG.
  • Increase effectiveness of international and [Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan] communications with the Afghan people and the [International Community].
  • Increase AFG political and popular will to counter violent extremism and protect the operational centre of gravity, namely the support of the Afghan people.
  • Maintain and increase international and public support for ISAF goals and policies in AFG.

In his second most critical statement, Gen. McChrystal asserts, “Focus should be on identifying the optimum medium for propagation rather than just on the message alone.” In this, he stresses the importance of “word-of-mouth” communication that enlists tribal leaders and others in positions of trust and authority among the Afghan people. Traditional media such as radio and newspapers are part of the mix as well.

The selection of communication channels has been problematic in similar efforts in Iraq. As The Washington Post article points out, over $500 million has been spent on communications activities there with a heavy focus on traditional media. Results have been questionable with one quoted expert deeming the American programs ineffective.

Another problem is turf wars within the American government regarding administration and execution of such communication programs. The Post cites Congressional concerns that the Pentagon is expanding into what has been a State Department purview. This friction harkens to an article I wrote for AdWeek in 2004 calling for a Department of Communications to centralize such activity. While the creation of a new cabinet department is highly unlikely, the internecine battles over America’s communication efforts shows the pitfalls of the current fragmented approach.

In the end, Gen. McChrystal is placing an essential priority on communications. It is part of a balanced and pragmatic plan for victory. Al Qaeda and their allies are adroit and insidious communicators, from the supreme statement of 9/11, to viral video, to whispered death threats for villagers who attend polling places or send their daughters to school. America’s leadership, ingenunity and resolve must extend to this “battlespace.”


Entry filed under: Crisis Communications, Leadership, Public Affairs, Public Relations, Social Media. Tags: , , , , , , .

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. James Strock  |  October 8, 2009 at 6:29 am

    Thanks for sharing this! It’s fascinating and inspires confidence that General McChrystal recognizes the signficance of strategic communications.

  • 2. Walt Norwood  |  October 14, 2009 at 7:29 am

    As a former Marine I don’t usually heap praise upon the Army but General McChrystal is the real deal. This guy is a communicator of the first order and is as tough and smart as they come. Our Executive Branch would be well advised to keep this guy on out on point and give him the supplies he needs to run the operation.

    Nice piece Jason, glad to see someone else picked up on this guys communication talents. I hear that he holds a daily meeting via video sat links that takes in more than 200 peeps around the theater. Now that is what I call “Getting the word out!”

    • 3. jasonkarpf  |  October 14, 2009 at 9:28 pm

      McChrystal is being a true leader by prioritizing communications…doesn’t matter if you’re making widgets or fighting al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Let us pray for our brave troops in Afghanistan and their commander, Gen. McChrystal. May they receive the resources and strategy for victory.

  • 4. Update from the Afghan Communications Front «  |  January 25, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    […] “More from the Afghan Communications Front,” focusing on the McChrystal report to Defense Secretary Gates. […]

  • 5. McChrystal and The Year of Bad Public Relations «  |  June 26, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    […] September, I blogged about Gen. McChrystal and his “Commander’s Initial Assessment,” praising the plan’s communications component. At that point, Gen. McChrystal was […]

  • 6. Mary Lou Zordel  |  July 19, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    How do we convince a man of this calibre that his work isn’t finished? We, as a Nation, need the honor and integrity. One vote still counts doesn’t it? MLZ


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