Over the weekend, it was reported that there had been what appears to be a triple murder-homicide in the small town of Feilding, only a few kilometres from where I’m based. The story recapped Feilding’s unfortunate recent history which has in the last few months included a particularly nasty ambush murder of a young farmer, a mid-air collision that killed two people and the death of LT Tim O’Donnell in an IED attack in Afghanistan.

It particularly annoyed me that Tim O’Donnell was described as being killed by ‘insurgents’ which may or may not be correct but it struck me that the use of this word ‘insurgant’ without any supporting evidence, indications or other pointers is again conceding the information battle to our adversaries. Surely better to be part of a strategic communication plan in which those perpetrated that attack are referred to as criminals, thus robbing them of any possible perception of legitimacy or right that may be inherent in ‘insurgent’. After all, it is a COIN truism that one man’s insurgent is another’s freedom fighter and another that most insurgencies are built in one form or another on elements of righteous greivance…mere use of the term implies a base level of right in their actions…so let’s stop doing that and in doing so, erode further their conceptual foundations…

One man who does ‘get’ strategic communication is Steve Tatham, who was the Director of Advanced Communication Research at the Defence Academy at Shrivenham, but whom I see from the tailpiece of his latest paper is now “…completing a PhD in Strategic Communication…” I hope he’s not planning on taking too long on his PhD because we really needed him to be out there expounding the Strategic Communication message. The new paper, Strategic Communication & Influence Operations: Do We Really Get It?, builds further upon his previous works,  Behavioural Conflict – From General to Strategic Corporal: Complexity, Adaptation and Influence and Strategic Communication: A Primer.

Do We Really Get It? moves further into the how-to of Strategic Communication and, of particular note to anyone who’s ever wonder what the Strategic Communication group in their organisation actually does, defines the distinction between Strategic Communication and Strategic Communications:

Strategic Communication

The processes and sequencing of information for carefully targeted audiences

A paradigm that recognises that information & perception effect target audience behaviour and that activity must be calibrated against first, second and third order effects.

Strategic Communications

The paper also discusses in detail the concept of the Target Audience Analysis (TAA), a process clearly and sadly lacking from the coalition’s forays into the information arena against the takfiri: “…Understanding the audience is the beginning and end of all military influence endeavours. Without TAA, influence success is dependent upon randomness, luck and coincidence – in short, ‘a fluke’…” This is what we in the trade would call ‘good stuff’ however no more previews: to learn more you need to not just read the paper, but hoist its message aboard and look to applying it daily…

The Small Wars Journal Blog today linked to an interview with David Kilcullen on Australia’s rising casualty rate in Afghanistan – it is a very interesting read and well worth following the link to the full text of the interview. I offered a small comment of my own based on a discussion we had yesterday regarding the changing situation in Afghanistan and the vague endstates that still persist in most if not all nations with forces in ISAF. I was humbled by the response from one of the SWJ administrators “…and, BTW, nice blog. Added to our roll…” So way down the bottom of the Small Wars Journal blogroll is yours truly…I now know how Dean @ Shiloh felt after Tom Ricks picked up his blog comments on the COIN Symposium in May this year and am a little worried that I will be able to hold up my end in such company as other members of that list…

2 thoughts on “Messages

  1. Congrats on the attaboy! Good comments and your point about the change of AO is interesting. I’d just add that I think it very much applies to any change of who owns an AO. You can have one American unit take over for another and you’re still going to have challenges because (IMO) we don’t do institutional knowledge very well. It’s probably more pronounced with different countries but I still think it’s a significant problem.


    • Cheers, Dean…I think that it’s an area we don’t cover very much in training…I remember as a soldier and then when I went into the ‘2’ world for a while…there was much ado about identifying boundaries between opposing units, and concealing intentions towards relief in place but bugger-all on the actual ‘why’ we were interested in these things – possibly a reflection on our training regimens at the time, I don’t know. I finally figured it out for myself after I bought a copy of Napoleon’s Military Maxims and read the section about attacking “…the ‘joint’ or ‘hinge’ of enemy dispositions…” – on went the light bulb and I ‘got it’…

      I think the same philosophy applies when the opposition becomes aware of a relief in place and takes advantage of the settling phase to take a few liberties. Of course, this isn’t made any easier now by the cyclic nature of our deployments where every 6-14 months not only do we rotate the ‘owners’ of an AO out but loudly and publicly broadcast the act to anyone who can read, listen or click a mouse…while I have no problem with giving deploying troops a decent send-off, maybe we shouldn’t be ‘opening the sealed orders’ til AFTER departing homeplate?

      The other problem, of course, is the transfer of AO-specific information between departing and incoming forces – difficult enough under ideal circumstances between forces from the same nation (size or scale does not seem to be a contributing factors here – it is just difficult to transfer situational awareness) but daunting when the awareness exchange is between forces from different nations without even the barrier of a common language…apart from hopping up on my lessons learned soapbox, i’m unable at the moment to offer much in the way of potential, let alone feasible, solutions to this one…not even a workable model for the Bolo Shared Experiences I referred to back in February…it really is worth tracking down a copy of the anthology The Unconquerable that has this short story…


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