A bizarre random thought occurred to me a few nights ago. What if the alleged February 21st Koran burning at Bagram prison in Afghanistan never actually happened? Or if it happened, but without the involvement of any US troops? What if the whole thing was an ingenious Taliban psy-ops (psychological operation)? It’s not as implausible as it might seem. The US military doesn’t have a monopoly on psychological warfare.
A Major Threat to Continued NATO Occupation
Korangate 3 has seriously jeopardized the US/NATO occupation of Afghanistan. Nearly two weeks after Afghan workers allegedly discovered that US troops were burning Korans in a Bagram rubbish pit, riots drawing tens of thousands of angry protestors continue across Afghanistan. Their demand: that Christian “infidels” immediately leave their country and that all good Muslims sacrifice themselves to ensure the immediate withdrawal of NATO’s occupying force.
More than thirty people have been killed, including four US troops and two US military advisers in the Afghan Interior Ministry. A uniformed Afghan soldier was implicated in one of the deaths. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the assassination of the military advisers. As a result, the US, Britain, Canada, Germany and France have withdrawn hundreds of advisers – working to transfer power to the Karzai government – from all Afghan ministries.
There have been profuse apologies from Obama, Afghan president Hamid Karzai and Major General John Allen, the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. All have promised to discipline the troops responsible once investigations (three of them – one by the Pentagon, one by a joint NATO-Karzai task force and one by a task force representing the Muslim council and Afghan parliament) are complete.
Korangate 1 and 2
This is the third international incident triggered by Americans (allegedly) desecrating the Koran. The first concerned a 2005 incident which Newsweek reported and later retracted about troops trying to flush a Koran down the toilet at Guantanamo. On investigation, it turned out one soldier had kicked a Koran and a second had written defamatory language on the cover of another. In two other instances, soldiers had inadvertently desecrated Korans. In the first a guard had urinated near an air duct, which accidentally contaminated a Koran in an adjacent cell. In the second, guards had thrown water balloons into a cell, which accidentally wet a Koran when they broke.
Korangate 2 occurred in March 2011, when an evangelical Florida pastor widely publicized a Koran burning at his church. This, too, triggered riots throughout the Muslim world that resulted in at least twenty-four deaths.
In all the above cases, the US military command showed great sensitivity in apologizing and ensuring all responsible troops (in Korangate 1) were appropriately disciplined. What’s more, the US military now undertakes that all troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq receive extensive training in Islam and Muslim culture.
Thus despite universal condemnation by American and international commentators for what they regard as “typical” US military insensitivity, stupidity and arrogance, the whole scenario strikes me as highly implausible. Who exactly were these unidentified Afghan staff – the ones who presumably set the rubbish pits on fire without realizing they contained discarded Korans? It turns out that burning them is the correct way to dispose of Korans that have been desecrated (in this case by writing secret messages in them). Under Islamic law, the only stipulation is that they be burned separately from other garbage.
Past Taliban Psy-ops
Perhaps this is payback for Obama’s brazen psy-ops last year, when he staged a commando raid on Pakistan to execute a man whose 2001 death by kidney failure had been confirmed by both Pakistani intelligence and the CIA (see David Ray Griffin’s extensively researched 2009 book Osama bin Laden: Dead or Alive?).
The essential ingredient of a good psy-ops is seizing control of the narrative in a way that makes outright denial impossible – no matter how outrageous the lie. In the case of Osama bin Laden’s alleged assassination, Obama took control of the narrative from the outset, leaving Pakistan no choice but to accede to the lie. The best they could come back with were charges that the US had violated their sovereignty.
Likewise, even though the 2005 Koran flushing allegations proved to be a fabrication, Bush and Pentagon leaders lost control of the narrative. This left them no alternative but to apologize, despite the implausible and trivial nature of the charges.
How the Taliban Wins Hearts and Minds
Not much is written about Taliban psy-ops. However there is an excellent analysis by Mubin Shaikh of Macquerie University (Sidney) of the sophisticated Internet savvy information war the Taliban (who previously regarded the Internet as un-Islamic) launched in 2009. The first sally in this public relations war was Mullah Mohammad Omar’s new code of conduct banning suicide bombings of civilians, burning schools or cutting off ears, lips or tongues. According to Shaikh, the other technique the Taliban refined that year was putting out briefings regarding their attacks before NATO could put out statements of their own. The success of Taliban victories were always wildly exaggerated but consistently provided more detail than those issued by NATO. More importantly, they seized control of the narrative by getting there first.
Shaikh’s article quotes Bruce Riedel, who led Obama’s 2009 review of Pakistan and Afghanistan strategy. “You have to respond to the propaganda war in a very quick time cycle; you can’t put out a statement saying, ‘We’re looking for all the facts before we comment.’”
All this suggests to me that the Taliban played some behind-the-scenes role in Korangate 3. That once again, they have put the President and the Pentagon on the back foot by issuing and seizing control of an outrageous, fairly implausible narrative. I believe, as in Korangate 1, it will turn out to be a fabrication. Yet, as in 2005, the US will have no choice but to single out a few troops for some minor or inadvertent infraction and discipline them.
Dr Bramhall is a retired child and adolescent psychiatrist and American expat in New Zealand. She has just published a free non-fiction ebook 21st Century Revolution, which can be downloaded at http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/120942. Her first book The Most Revolutionary Act: Memoir of an American Refugee describes the circumstances that led her to leave the US in 2002. Her website is www.stuartbramhall.com and her email firstname.lastname@example.org