Information Warfare: British Army Defeated By a Press Release


May 18, 2007: The decision not to send Cornet Harry Wales ("Prince Harry" to the media) to Iraq, in the face of threats against him, has caused the British Army a significant loss of face. Once again, terrorists have managed to manipulate a Western democracy through the adept manipulation of that country's media. It is a disturbingly familiar pattern in recent years, and there is a question that naturally arises. Can anything be done about it? Sadly, it seems unlikely.

The media strategy is often used by terrorists that have no hope of winning on the battlefield. It needs to be noted that al Qaeda has shifted to high-profile attacks. In many cases, these do not have the objective of winning. Their objective instead is to make some big headlines in American and British papers or provide dramatic footage that will be aired on al Jazeera and picked up by the Western media. The aftermath of the 1993 firefight in Mogadishu is a classic example. American troops won the firefight despite taking some casualties, but the images of American troops being dragged through the streets spooked the politicians and forced a withdrawal that al-Qaeda used as a rallying point.

Al Qaeda hopes to eventually generate the same reaction in Iraq and eventually Afghanistan as well. Their recent kidnapping of three American soldiers - as well as their attacks with chlorine gas - are meant to rack up a high body count. Americans are preferred, but Iraqi civilians will do. The point is to make the violence seem unstoppable. Their decision to target bridges in Mosul is another example. Destroying a bridge is a sure headline grabber - and makes for nice footage.

Can such a media strategy be countered? In the Western media, it is a very difficult task. Media outlets in the United States pride themselves as being independent. In 2005, the reporters who broke stories that compromised several intelligence programs won Pulitzer Prizes. Some mainstream media outlets have opposed the war in Iraq from the start. This opposition was increased due to the failure to immediately find weapons of mass destruction added to the media's growing doubts.

As long as al-Qaeda detonated IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan, they could increase the perception of a quagmire. By getting the media to focus on the IEDs-of-the-day, al Qaeda was able to bury the good news (like the training of the Iraqi Army and reconstruction efforts), and was able to weather the loss of senior leaders like Abu Musab al Zarqawi.

In the case of keeping Cornet Wales from deploying with his unit, it did not take any IEDs. He was kept home via the use of threats by a terrorist whose claims were repeated by the media. Eventually, senior British Army officers flinched. This is a major victory for the terrorists in Iraq - one that did not require a single IED or even a shot. - Harold C. Hutchison ([email protected])




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