Feb. 29, 2012
By Tom Vanden Brook and Ray Locker
WASHINGTON – As the Pentagon has sought to sell wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to often-hostile populations there, it has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on poorly tracked marketing and propaganda campaigns that military leaders like to call “information operations,” the modern equivalent of psychological warfare.
From 2005 to 2009, such spending rose from $9 million to $580 million a year mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pentagon and congressional records show. Last year, spending dropped to $202 million as the Iraq War
wrapped up. A USA TODAY investigation, based on dozens of interviews and a series of internal military reports, shows that Pentagon officials have little proof the programs work and they won’t make public where the money goes. In Iraq alone, more than $173 million was paid to what were identified only as “miscellaneous foreign contractors.”
“What we do as I.O. is almost gimmicky,” says Army Col. Paul Yingling, who served three tours in Iraq between 2003 and 2009, including as an information operations specialist. “Doing posters, fliers or radio ads. These things are unserious.”
Indeed, information operations are no panacea in crises such as the current showdown in Afghanistan after revelations that U.S.
forces burned copies of the Quran, the Islamic holy book. NATO
and Afghan forces have had little success in calming the country after a week of riots, attacks on U.S. and NATO forces and even a suicide car bombing.
The Pentagon’s counterinsurgency manual — the guide to U.S. military policy in Afghanistan — urges commanders to “aggressively use” information operations to win over local populations and to “admit mistakes (or actions perceived as mistakes) quickly.”
has apologized to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and Gen. Martin Dempsey
, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
, has called the Quran burning a mistake. While the riots have subsided, it’s unclear whether even the best information operations program could have stopped the growing rage over this incident.
As to whether the hundreds of millions of dollars spent in Afghanistan and Iraq have been worth the U.S. investment, the USA TODAY investigation found: