Information Warfare: Radio To Bleed For

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June 15, 2012: U.S. commanders in remote Afghan outposts have found a powerful, and non-lethal, weapon to use against the Taliban: FM radio broadcasts. There are often locals who oppose the Taliban and would love to broadcast their opinions on this to everyone in the area. But they know that the usual Taliban response to such activity is destruction of your broadcast equipment and perhaps some personal harm as well. So the anti-Taliban broadcasters are being invited to set up shop in American bases and live nearby in order to keep the Taliban from getting personal in their protests. This approach has worked, as most Afghans see the Taliban as a bunch of self-righteous thugs who will rob you while preaching about what a bad Moslem you are. You can see that anti-Taliban broadcasters have a lot to work with here.

This all began over six years ago when the Taliban, and political or religious activists of all sorts, began taking advantage of cheaper radio broadcasting equipment and growing affluence among Afghans (who can now afford a few bucks for a cheap radio). This has given rise to hundreds of illegal FM radio stations in contested areas.

The equipment is easy enough to get. A rig the size of a large suitcase, weighing about 14 kg (30 pounds), can generate 50 Watts of power. If you put your broadcast antenna on a hill you can reach listeners several hundred kilometers away. This is more than enough range to stay in touch with thousands of potential listeners. Such broadcast equipment (which requires a government license to use legally in the U.S.) is available for a few thousand dollars (including bribes and smugglers fees). Many legal stations in Pakistan and Afghanistan use similar equipment.

You can get a 45 kg (hundred pounds), 250 Watt rigs, used by commercial stations in that part of the world for under $10,000. You can mount all this in an SUV or pickup truck and stay mobile and one step ahead of the police but not American electronic monitoring gear and smart bombs. The Taliban soon learned to find a place with lots of women and children before turning the transmitter on.

The radio stations protected by the foreign troops can play music and conduct call in shows. These often attract Taliban callers, in addition to a lot of anti-Taliban locals. It gets pretty lively at times.

 

 


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