THE LEAFLET WAR ON ISLAMIC STATE

Los Angeles Times on September 19, 2016, reported on the leaflet war on Islamic State. A reporter flew with the crew of an Iraqi plane that distributed hundreds of boxes of leaflets. Excerpts below:

Over the next hour, they would throw them over 16 cities and towns in Nineveh province, all held by Islamic State, as part of the government’s largest “psy-ops” offensive against the militant group.

In the battle to defeat Islamic State, which the government calls “Daesh,” Iraqi forces have taken aim at the militants not only with bombs and bullets, but also through a multi-pronged media war to deflate the group’s “bogeyman” image.

The efforts serve as a counterweight to Islamic State’s media machine, a juggernaut that produces high-quality videos, photo essays and magazines disseminated via a Hydra-like social media network.

It was a little more than two years ago that Islamic State stormed Mosul, prompting tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers to flee for their lives in the face of an onslaught by a ragtag army of about 1,500 militants in pickups.

“What happened in June 2014 was a function of psychological operations by Daesh that were able to cast terror, fear and confusion among both the armed forces and our society,” said Said Jayashi, a consultant to the Iraqi government’s Psychological Warfare division, in a phone interview on Wednesday.

The easy capture of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, pushed the extremist group to proclaim the establishment of its caliphate over swaths of Iraq and Syria a few weeks later.

It also prompted the Iraqi government to bring together “a group of experts, composed of university professors, specialists in psychological, social and media sciences as well as intelligence and security personnel,” said Jayashi. They were tasked with producing propaganda to counter Islamic State.

Much of the pro-government propaganda is woven into everyday life in government-controlled areas of the country…As the battles to take back Islamic State areas began in 2015,… “military operations had to be supported by media and psychological operations to confuse the enemy” and to reach residents living under Islamic State rule. To do this, the government uses text messages, radio and leaflets.

The leaflets, especially, have played a central role. Over the last two years, the government says, its planes have cast more than 40 million of them over Islamic State areas.

As the government’s campaign has progressed, the airdrops have served as a prelude to the security forces’ advance, leaving a paper trail extending from parts of the Syrian-Iraqi border to Salahuddin province, Ramadi and Fallujah.

One leaflet, distributed over Mosul in June, told beleaguered residents that it was “high time … that you all stand on the land of your pure city as one hand against Islamic State” and “rule the city and decide its fate.”

Others give more practical advice, such as those informing people of the location of humanitarian corridors or reminding them to take personal documents before evacuating their homes. Those are usually thrown 72 hours before ground forces begin their incursion on a city.

With the plane in position over its target, officers Abbass and Ismail began to grab boxes and throw them out of the side door.

Ismail explained there was no danger of the cartons falling — and killing — unsuspecting citizens below; the wind would quickly rip them apart.

Events soon proved he was right: One of the boxes hit the lip of the doors, tearing its side and spewing leaflets in a whirling vortex of paper.

Suddenly, an unintelligible message came over the plane’s public address system, followed by an abrupt movement. In the cockpit, Hussein, seeing the flashes of what appeared to be antiaircraft fire, had taken the plane up to safety. Although only a little more than two-thirds of the boxes had been deployed, the mission was over.
The next day, the local news outlet Sumariyah News quoted a source in Nineveh province who said that Islamic State had mobilized its cadres to collect and destroy all the leaflets in their areas.

Any resident found with a leaflet, the source said, would be lashed 20 times.

Comment: In spite of the advance of computer technology paper leaflets are still used in psychological warfare operations. In the Vietnam War, for instance, so called surrender leaflets were successfully used by the American and South Vietnamese forces. Thousands of North Vietnamese officers and soldier gave themselves up accepting the South Vietnamese government’s defection offer . In the fight against ISIS surrender leaflets are useless against Muslim fanatics.

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