Now I know what PSYOPS is, thanks to help from Roto 3-10! The following is an excerpt from my book "Combat Mission," currently in progress:"
Insurgency wars are not new; they have been occurring since ancient times. What is new is the easy access now possible to the latest technology and the insurgents’ readiness in making use of them. Insurgents in Afghanistan have equipped their fighters with cell phones to both coordinate the activities of their groups and to report on ISAF troop movements. They produce videos to broadcast their messages to local viewers and to international audiences over news channels – on YouTube, on Al Jazeera or on their own Internet site. Islamists believe that an attack that is not publicized is an attack that has not succeeded.
Western militaries have been aware for some time that a key aspect of insurgency warfare is the battle to influence people. Throughout the wars of the 20th century, all sides gradually developed the use of psychological operations to influence both the opponents’ military and its population. In both the First and Second World Wars, significant efforts were made to influence enemy populations and military forces by means of psychological operations. In the American military, however, the emphasis on psychological operations (PSYOPS) became formally significant in the Vietnam War when a dedicated psychological operations group comprised of four battalions was established to support combat operations during that conflict. By the time of the 1991 Gulf War, the role played by American PSYOPS units was sufficiently successful that the British military decided to form its own permanent unit and it has taken part in every significant British military operation since then.
The decision to create a permanent PSYOPS capability did not come easily to most militaries. Mandating and training soldiers to carry out a range of activities under the vague term of “psychological operations” was not easy to understand by soldiers who are trained to fight an enemy with fire power. They can ask if the use of sophisticated psychological tools used to sell consumer products be just another form of “brain-washing; or does it resemble the methods used too often by authoritarian regimes; or is it simply a waste of time? But the American and British experience had successful results in Iraq and produced lessons that sharpened the doctrine. Many critics were impressed when, on television news, they saw thousands of Iraqi soldiers readily surrendering to coalition forces.
The Canadian army’s attitude to PSYOPS probably softened in the 1990s as some commanders recognized the need for such methods during their peacekeeping experience in Bosnia, where reducing tensions among different racial groups was a big part of the challenge. After Bosnia, Rwanda and Kosovo, younger leaders understood that the Canadian Forces were ill-equipped for post-Cold War conflicts. Senior officer recognized that characteristics of conflicts were changing during the latter part of the 20th century, so the Canadian Forces commissioned a study of what would be required by the Canadian military to meet future threats in this new environment. As a result of the recommendations, in November 2003, Lieutenant-General Rick Hillier ordered the Army to develop a PSYOPS capability. The initial group was formed in January 2004; it had an authorized strength of 24 reservists from the Montreal area but so great was the response that, within a few weeks, over 60 personnel were accepted for training. A UK PSYOPS course was given in the summer of 2004 by experienced British PSYOPS personnel, supplemented with contracted courses dealing with technical subjects such as information technology, radio and photography. After a six-month’s probation period, the PSYOPS unit pared itself down to its authorized strength as those candidates that did not meet the PSYOPS standards were returned to their home units. The first PSYOPS section was deployed to Kandahar with the Canadian Multi-National Brigade in Operation Athena Phase 2 in 2006.
T. Robert Fowler, author, Canadian military history