By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Special to American Forces Press Service
June 6, 2008 - U.S. Central Command is part of an Interagency Task Force for Irregular Warfare, a CentCom initiative that recently stood up to track and target "violent and extreme actors" in the command's area of operations, the Air Force general who's spearheading the effort said yesterday. "Regionally, we look at influences of extreme actors that are malign that would provide, from within their borders, exporting either violence or activities that would be disruptive to their neighbors," Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert H. Holmes, CentCom's deputy director of operations, said to online journalists and bloggers during a teleconference from the command's headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.
He added that the objectives of the Interagency Task Force for Irregular Warfare for the near term include disrupting some specific elements of terror networks.
"If you find bad stuff in the wrong places, you have to call it like you see it. We continue to see that and continue to watch it," Holmes said. "Our business is looking at this malign influence and then figuring out what we can do to counter it ... in a holistic manner, not necessarily just force on force."
He added that to counter, combat and, ultimately, defeat these kinds of networked activities, it will take more than just military force over the long term.
Holmes said the Interagency Task Force for Irregular Warfare, which includes other federal partners and nongovernmental agencies, has been observing an "adversarial information operation," or communications tactic, with regard to reporting of civilian casualties. He said that both the Taliban in Afghanistan and terrorists in Iraq have both adopted this type of tactic.
"[There is a] discrepancy in what we see in open-source reporting with regard to civilian casualties and then what is actually in our operational reporting," Holmes said. "I believe that the enemy uses this tactic to try to dissuade a civilian populace from the things that are actually going on there."
The interagency task force also is looking into the networks of the Taliban and al-Qaida. Holmes said both terrorist organizations have specialists who are savvy in manipulating the media.
"There is a malign actor there that, in my mind, would have the purpose in an information operation campaign, and that is clearly a piece of terrain for our adversary, that they are going to use this to their advantage," Holmes said.
And that advantage can be significant in the court of world opinion, the general noted, because organizations with nefarious intentions will put out whatever information suits their motives.
"We're bound to tell the truth, and in most cases our adversary is not," Holmes noted.
Once information is put into the dynamic information environment, misleading perceptions are easily created.
"Often, truth is no longer important; it's just out there," he explained. "If I was my opponent, and I wanted to do something against someone I knew was grounded in truthful principles, ... then I would use that to my advantage."
Another trend the interagency task force is watching and trying to weigh out is the use of female suicide bombers. Though it's not a significant trend at this point, young or mentally disabled women being used as suicide bombers is a departure in enemy tactics.
"It's too early to say that this may be a sign of desperation," Holmes said. "We watched the recruitment and flow of young males that have been recruited to be suicide bombers. We have been trying to target that network to disrupt that flow."
(Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg works in the New Media directorate of the Defense Media Activity.)