December 3, 2008 / 12:56 PM / 11 years ago

NATO scraps press, psy ops merger in Afghanistan

KABUL, Nov 29 (Reuters) - The U.S. commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan has scrapped a plan to merge the office that releases news with “Psy Ops”, which deals with propaganda, to comply with alliance policy, a spokesman said on Wednesday.

The original plan worried Washington’s European NATO allies. Germany had threatened to pull out of media operations in Afghanistan, officials said last week, as it could have undermined the credibility of information released to the public.

“The new communications structure has started to be implemented now, but it is now completely within the framework of NATO policy regarding public affairs,” said ISAF spokesman Brigadier General Richard Blanchette.

More than seven years after U.S.-led and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, many Afghans are increasingly frustrated at the failure of their government and NATO troops to bring security and contain the Taliban insurgency.

The Taliban, through their website, telephone text messages and frequent calls to reporters, have been particularly successful in the information war, Britain’s Chief of Defence Staff Jock Stirrup admitted last week.

“They’ve beaten us to the punch on numerous occasions, and by doing so they’ve magnified the sense of difficulty and diminished the sense of progress. This is down in part to their skill, and in part to our own failings,” he said in a speech.

NATO POLICY

In an attempt to respond to those failings, U.S. General David McKiernan, the commander of 50,000 troops in NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), had ordered the combination of the Public Affairs Office, Information Operations and Psy Ops (Psychological Operations) from Dec. 1, said three NATO officials with detailed knowledge of the move.

But that order went against policy agreed by the 26 nations within NATO which recognises there is an inherent clash of interests between its public affairs offices, whose job it is to issue press releases and answer media questions, and that of Information Operations and Psy Ops.

Information Operations advises on information designed to affect the will of the enemy, while Psy Ops includes so-called “black operations”, or outright deception.

The move caused considerable concern at higher levels within NATO which had challenged the order by the U.S. general, said the three NATO officials who all declined to be named.

A one-star general will now head a new office of strategic communications, but that would remain separate from public affairs, Blanchette said.

Asked why McKiernan had changed his plan, Blanchette said: “Because the commander wanted to make sure he had something that was completely compliant with NATO policy.” (Editing by Bill Tarrant)

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