Gen. David Petraeus is preparing to order an investigation into allegations that the Army used psychological operations” team to persuade lawmakers visiting Afghanistan to increase troop numbers and war funding.
U.S. Forces-Afghanistan announced the move in a terse news release Thursday, ending with, “It would be inappropriate to comment any further at this time.”
The news came after Rolling Stone reported Wednesday that Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, commander of National Training Mission-Afghanistan, ordered the operation. An officer in charge of the unit objected and was reprimanded, according to the magazine.
“My job in psyops is to play with people’s heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave,” Lt. Col. Michael Holmes is quoted as saying. “I’m prohibited from doing that to our own people. When you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressmen, you’re crossing a line.”
Sens. John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Jack Reed, Al Franken and Carl Levin, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen were among those targeted, the magazine said.
A U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan and a spokesman for Mullen declined to comment.
Levin released a statement on Thursday saying he has been a longtime supporter of building up Afghan security forces.
“I have never needed any convincing on this point,” he said in the statement. “Quite the opposite, my efforts have been aimed at convincing others of the need for larger, more capable Afghan security forces, and that we and NATO should send more trainers to Afghanistan, rather than more combat troops. I am confident that the chain of command will review any allegation that information operations have been improperly used in Afghanistan.”
Caldwell ordered the unit to ascertain the visitors’ likes, dislikes and “hot-button issues,” Holmes told the magazine.
“How do we get these guys to give us more people?” Caldwell is said to have asked. “What do I have to plant inside their heads?”
U.S. law bars the military from using psyops on Americans, the magazine reported.
Holmes checked with the JAG lawyer who handled information operations.
“The short answer is that IO doesn’t do that,” Capt. John Scott replied.
Rolling Stone wrote that in an e-mail reply, Scott wrote that “[Public affairs] works on the hearts and minds of our own citizens and IO works on the hearts and minds of the citizens of other nations. While the twain do occasionally intersect, such intersections, like violent contact during a soccer game, should be unintentional.”