British Psy Ops in Afghanistan

BBC News has an extremely rare article on the UK military’s psychological operations group and their work in Afghanistan.

The piece reports how the 15 (UK) Psychological Operations Group have been given the Firmin Sword of Peace – an accolade recognising the building of community relations awarded by, well, the UK military.

Get your plaudits where you can, that’s what I say.

Psy Ops is a combination of marketing and public relations with more targeted psychology, sociology and anthropology to measure fast moving social changes and perceptions – largely used to inform strategy and military intelligence at the local level.

The 15 (UK) Psy Ops Group rarely ever features in the media and there’s not a great deal of information about them, although most of it has been collected on this PowerBase page.

In fact, the last time 15 (UK) Psy Ops hit the headlines was when one of their unit was killed in 2008, who was most notable in the media for being the first British female solider to die in Afghanistan.

Except for that, one of the last mentions was in 2003. And now they’re press-releasing an award given to them by their own organisation and talking to reporters.

So why the PR drive? Recruitment, it seems. Commander Steve Tatham notes that “at a time most of the Armed Forces are being cut back, his unit is being expanded”.

Despite the spin, it’s not a bad article actually. Although the Group do give the ‘we’re just telling the truth’ line it does discuss the sort of approaches they take and the problems they face.

Link to BBC News article on UK Psy Ops in Afghanistan.
Link to Ministry of Defence press release.

3 thoughts on “British Psy Ops in Afghanistan”

  1. Emmmm …. I think your post needs some more thought.

    Surely the PR drive was because they had won an award, not recruiting?

    I see you quote Powerbase as if it were a trusted source… LoL. Have you actually read some of the guff they write?

  2. The Firmin Sword of Peace is actually awarded not by the MoD, but by Firmin & Sons, who took over from Wilkinson Sword when they stopped sword production in 2005. So, in a sense, the award was a PR opportunity for both the sword maker and the military, and was itself given to a unit whose portfolio is Public Relations. I am much less sanguine about this article than you. Being that Psy-Ops is so rarely discussed in the press, it would have been nice to hear even one dissenting voice. The only views presented are those of the unit’s CO; a junior officer returning from her deployment with said unit; and a Captain returned from Iraq who lays out the noble aims of psy-ops: making sure people attend community board meetings and ensuring children are not blown up by insurgent’s IED’s (certainly no need to worry about the good guy’s unexploded ordnance or depleted Uranium). Propaganda and PR are identical. The point is to influence a large audience toward a set of beliefs and/or a set of actions. While the term Propaganda is justly tarred through association with the Nazi’s, the term PR has been given a free pass, despite its unsavory past. Edward Bernays invented the term PR as a code word for propaganda, which had negative connotations due to its association with the German government of the first World War. His involvement in the United Fruit inspired coup in Guatemala, and helping to increase cigarette smoking among American women are just two examples of how his techniques helped large business concerns kill people in search of profit. Despite the ramble, don’t take this as a criticism of anything other than this one aspect of this one post. In general, I love your site, and when I know enough about the topic at hand to have a solid opinion, I tend to agree with your take as presented here.

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