The new battlefield, the information war

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Like many career fields in the Air Force, public affairs Airmen have seen a dramatic increase in deployments as the coalition transitions out of Iraq and narrows its focus on Afghanistan.
The bottom line is Iraq and Afghanistan are truly information wars, and the Air Force's professional communicators have never been busier fighting to put truth in the public realm.

The mission of public affairs is to tell the Air Force story. What happens in the air and on the ground is simply amazing - and deserves to be told. The world's most feared and respected Air Force employs cutting-edge technology and good old-fashion American Chuck Norris-esque awesomeness to enable combatant commanders to bring death from above to those who heartlessly kill the innocent while hiding behind their own countrymen in civilian clothes.

PA shares these stories with the world through information operations, as the coverage of these events help shape public perception of the coalition's efforts. Now, more than ever, PA, under a broader umbrella of IO, is in the midst of the action overseas, telling the Air Force story and combating a Vietnam-style anti-war propaganda campaign, waged by idealists and the "free press."

The two pillars of IO are information in war, and information warfare. Information in war is used to help commanders foster public understanding and support for air and space operations. Information in war can be used to guide future operations, as decision-makers look to the past to see what has and hasn't worked before, and apply that knowledge to the job at hand.

Information warfare is a multifaceted mission. PA's role is to counter adversarial propaganda by providing a flood of credible and timely information, all the while maintaining operational and information security.

Public affairs personnel, through the media of the written word, the still image, and video, are charged to provide the public with information in order to bring credibility to the young governments of Iraq and Afghanistan, while maintaining faith in the leadership of the coalition. They document the progress made in these campaigns, showing the world our ability to both destroy and rebuild.

Journalists write news and feature stories, telling of the struggle between the coalition and its enemies. Stories of victory and defeat. Of tragedy and miracles, showcasing the ability of the coalition to persevere and win.

Photographers capture moments in time, showing the impact of coalition efforts; using an image to tell a story, and documenting that story for future generations.

Videographers meld the art of storytelling and moving imagery, providing viewers a first-hand experience of the mission.

In 2006, then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld spoke to the Council on Foreign Relations about the importance of the information war, stating, "... some of the most critical battles may not be in the mountains of Afghanistan or the streets of Iraq, but in newsrooms - in places like New York, London, Cairo, and elsewhere."

The enemy also knows the importance of information control.

"More than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media ... we are in a media battle in a race for the hearts and minds of [Muslims]," said Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's chief lieutenant.

The enemy plans their horrifying acts of terror to make headlines, in hopes of breaking the will of the people. As soon as the public gives up, the enemy has won. Combating the constant barrage of bad news with stories of success and hope are key to maintaining the indigenous people's will to overcome their oppressors.

While some may consider PA to be desk jockeys whose sole mission is to produce base newspapers, the truth is, these Airmen are an integral piece in the puzzle of public opinion - hence the increase in deployment cycles.

Mr. Rumsfeld, speaking of combating propaganda, said this:

"[The war is] a test of wills and it will be won or lost with our public and the publics of free nations across the globe. We will need to do all we can to attract supporters to our efforts, to correct the lies being told which so damage our country, and shatter the appeal of the enemy."