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Military command in Kabul pushes back on Rolling Stone article

By PATRICK DICKSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 27, 2011

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — The military command in Kabul is going on the offensive.

In response to Rolling Stone’s article accusing a top general in Afghanistan of instructing subordinates to use psychological operations techniques on visiting U.S. dignitaries, the general’s chief spokesman, Lt. Col. Shawn Stroud, has sent a “personal message” to colleagues and members of the media to “categorically deny the assertion.”

In “Another Runaway General,” published online Wednesday, author Michael Hastings wrote that “orders from the command of Lt. Gen. William Caldwell” instructed members of an Information Operations team to use psy-ops techniques to manipulate visiting senators into providing more funds and U.S. troops for the war in Afghanistan.

“The evidence provided in the Rolling Stone article is misleading at best and outright false in many places,” Stroud wrote. “The article is based on a single source of information, bereft of balance by any additional sources.

“Specifically, the characterization of [Congressional Delegations] preparation is wholly inaccurate. Personnel with backgrounds in IO were utilized only because of their availability.”

Lt. Col. Michael Holmes, the leader of the information operations cell tasked with the assignment, told the magazine he was the victim of an investigation of spurious charges after he resisted. He further said that he had checked with a military lawyer, who had agreed that the task would violate U.S. law.

But Stroud contends that “in the specific case of Lt. Col. Holmes, a staff judge advocate determined his use as a staff officer in this manner was completely legal.”

In a Saturday interview with The New York Times, Holmes countered that this determination was made only after the assignment was rewritten to limit its scope.

Use of psy-ops is prohibited under the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, which was passed by Congress to prevent the State Department from using Soviet-style propaganda techniques on U.S. citizens.

The Wall Street Journal reported late Friday that the U.S. Army’s Special Operations Command announced that their special warfare center has no record of training Holmes in “psychological operations.”

Holmes told the paper that he received training in information operations and how to use the psychological operation techniques but never claimed to have been trained as a psy-ops officer.

Holmes further told the paper that what he had been asked to do was “pretty innocuous stuff,” but maintained that asking an officer trained in information operations to do the job of a public affairs officer is improper and illegal.

ISAF headquarters has initiated an investigation, Stroud wrote.

dicksonp@estripes.osd.mil

 

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