Shock and awe on the air
US steps up propaganda war
Mäkeläinen, Camp as-Sayliyah, Qatar
Surrender or die is the
message beamed at the remaining Iraqi Republican
Guard soldiers in trenches around Baghdad. Coalition
propaganda is aired 24 hours a day over Information
Radio, part of a sophisticated psychological warfare
operation aimed at winning the war in Iraq with
less fighting, less casualties - and more clever
With emphasis on the technical
aspects, this article is the most comprehensive
report published so far of the ongoing Iraqi mission
of Information Radio.
Information Radio, Radiyo al-Ma'ulumat (sample
) in Arabic, is a US military Special Operations
radio station broadcasting anti-Saddam Hussein messages,
which are aimed at weakening his support among the
Iraqi people and military.
A systems operator and
flight crewman mans his station on board a U.S.
Air Force EC-130E aircraft during a Commando
Solo mission in March 2003 (Photo by US Navy)
Radio broadcasts are transmitted
24 hours a day from several transmitter sites in
the air above Iraq, on the ground in Iraq and on
naval vessels in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of
Oman. Until now, these transmitter locations have
The programs however are well-known - or at least
they should be - because that is the purpose of
the mission. Each program normally lasts about an
hour and contains an introduction, combinations
of regional and Western music and an information
US Central Command has provided
of only the very first transmissions in December
2002. However, the content has developed over time,
and new messages can be inserted at a short notice.
telling the Iraqi people for their own safety, to
stay away from Baghdad International Airport,"
said Brigadier General Vincent Brooks at a Central
Command briefing on April 6, two days after US forces
had taken control of the airport. While this doesn't
sound impressive in the era of 24-hour news television,
it is an indication of increased flexibility in
comparison with earlier radio propaganda operations.
Current issues are mixed with
messages that have remained the same throughout
the operation. "We're also explaining the importance
of carefully following checkpoint instructions as
they approach them. There are checkpoints that they
may encounter. If they follow the instructions of
the people at the checkpoint, there are no problems,"
Brooks added. "We explain to the Iraqis the
types of atrocities and criminal acts that the regime
is responsible for. And we're also telling the Iraqi
forces that remain, specifically the Special Republican
Guard and special security forces, that they should
surrender, flee, or fight and face certain destruction."
A war that began
already in 2002
A radio propaganda operation
often precedes a war, and a war had indeed been
planned for months. In December 2002, a hectic operation
was underway 17 kilometers southwest from the Qatari
capital Doha at Camp as-Sayliyah, which was being
prepared to serve as the forward headquarters of
the US Central Command (CENTCOM) in case of war
against Iraq. However, a war had already begun -
a war for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.
A 193rd Special Operations
Wing EC-130E Commando Solo is refueled by a
100th Air Expeditionary Wing KC-135 Stratotanker
from the Royal Air Force (Photo by US Air Force)
For some time, US Special Operations
Forces had been operating in and around Iraq preparing
the ground for military action. An important part
of the work was Psychological Operations (PSYOP).
Officially, the purpose of PSYOP is to induce or
reinforce attitudes and behaviors favorable to US
objectives by conducting planned operations to convey
selected information to various audiences in Iraq
to influence their emotions, motives, reasoning
and ultimately, the behavior of organizations, groups
and individuals in Iraq.
In short, if the Iraqi military
could be convinced that resistance would be futile,
the war would become less messy and it would be
over sooner than without any psychological warfare.
From Doha Airport
to the skies of Baghdad
The most important field player
in the PSYOP warfare is Commando Solo, the
193rd Special Operations Wing of the Pennsylvania
Air National Guard. In November 2002 an EC-130E
plane had been dispatched from its base at the Harrisburg
International Airport in Middletown, Pennsylvania,
to Qatar, to launch a radio propaganda operation
against the regime of President Saddam Hussein.
has gradually become the most important US ally
in the Persian Gulf and a host of a few new military
bases. Still, Qatar is eager to play down its vital
role in the war against Iraq in order to maintain
good relations with other Arab countries. The US
is cooperating by keeping a low profile. American
soldiers are confined to their bases to avoid fueling
anti-American sentiment in the country.
The largest US base is Al Udeid,
built to host up to 10,000 troops and 120 aircraft,
but Commando Solo is operating from a much smaller
Camp Snoopy, which is located at the Doha International
Airport just southeast of downtown Doha.
US troops were first deployed
to Doha in 1996, although construction work for
Camp Snoopy really got underway in 2000. Although
the US military has been silent about the location
of Commando Solo, in fact not much effort has been
made to conceal the aircraft from the eyes of the
5,000 daily passengers at the airport. Commando
Solo, other US special operations aircraft and transport
aircraft are not hidden in shelters, but are sitting
on the tarmac close to the airport terminal, which
is mostly used by Qatar Airways.
Two Commando Solo aircraft,
distinguished by projections in the tailfin,
at Camp Snoopy, Doha International Airport (Photo
The broadcasts became public
in mid-December, when Pentagon announced the start
of a new Commando Solo operation. On December
12, 2002, an EC-130E aircraft of the Air Force 193rd
Special Operations Wing began flying near Iraq.
According to the US Defense Department, initially
the plane was not flying in the Iraqi airspace,
not even in the no-fly zones.
From the start this psychological
warfare operation included not only radio broadcasts
but also leaflet drops, which actually started already
on October 3, 2002. Both the radio broadcasts and
the leaflets have been prepared by the 4th Psychological
Operations Group (Airborne) at Fort Bragg, North
Carolina, which is where the Army Special Operations
Command is also located. Leaflet drops increased
steadily, reaching 40 million on April 7, 2003.
In comparison, during the Gulf War of 1991, a total
of over 29 million copies of 38 different leaflets
first leaflets contained messages urging the Iraqi
military not to fire at US and British aircraft
patrolling the southern no-fly zone. Later, leaflets
have been dropped on Iraqi military forces encouraging
them to capitulate, to refrain from using weapons
of mass destruction and to leave oil wells intact.
Leaflets dropped over population centers have told
Iraqi civilians that Coalition forces are targeting
the military. The leaflets encouraged civilians
to stay at home and to listen to Coalition radio
US Central Command has published
images of most of the leaflets.
The English versions of the leaflets are available
only to feed the appetite of the western media,
while all leaflets actually dropped in Iraq have
been in Arabic, which is the native tongue for the
majority of the Iraqi people.
Leaflets have been dropped
to Iraq since mid-December 2002, detailing broadcast
times and frequencies of Information Radio.
Leaflets have been dropped using
various platforms from fixed-wing aircraft dropping
fiberglass leaflet-bombs to UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters
spreading the leaflets. The leaflets are not dropped
by the Commando Solo aircraft, as often reported,
but leaflets drops and radio broadcasts are separate
operations. Thousands of
wind-up radios have also been dropped from the air
as well as handed out to the Iraqis on the ground
to facilitate the reception of Coalition broadcasts.
around the clock
A key function of the leaflets
has been to inform Iraqis of the frequencies used
by Information Radio. From the start, Information
Radio has been advertised to broadcast at 18.00
- 23.00 Iraq local time (equal to 1500-2000 UTC
during the winter and 1400-1900 UTC from April 1,
2003) on five different frequencies, 693 and 756
kHz mediumwave, 9715 and 11292 kHz shortwave and
100.4 MHz FM.
Another version of the leaflets dropped in Iraq
DXers and professional monitoring
organizations were quick to spot broadcasts on 9715
kHz. Also 756 and 11292 kHz have been monitored,
while other frequencies have not been confirmed
by independent monitoring.
Although the reception of signals
on the different frequencies varied greatly, it
has been generally assumed that all transmissions
have originated from several EC-130E Commando Solo
aircraft deployed in the area. However, of a fleet
of six aircraft, only one Commando Solo aircraft
was being used at any given time, and it has broadcast
on 693 kHz mediumwave, 9715 kHz shortwave and 100.4
MHz FM. The power on all of these three frequencies
has been 10 kW. The aircraft used in the mission
are rotated, but all have roughly the same transmitter
facilities. In addition to the single Commando Solo
aircraft, from the very start Information Radio
has been transmitted also from other platforms.
On the ground, HMMWV vehicles
(High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicle, HMMWV),
also known as Humvees or Hummers,
are used by other PSYOP units as platforms for mobile
transmitters broadcasting Information Radio. Humvees
are designed for use over all types of roads, in
all weather conditions and are very effective in
the most difficult terrain, making them ideal for
conditions in Iraq.
A Humvee drives out of
a C-141B Starlifter (Photo by DoD). A SOMS-B
unit can be transported also in one Hercules
In PSYOP, a system called SOMS-B
(Special Operations Media System-B) has been used
since 1997. SOMS-B is a combined radio and television
broadcasting station packed in two Humvees and a
trailer. SOMS-B units have been broadcasting Information
Radio from the staging areas of US troops in Kuwait,
and soon after the first Coalition ground troops
entered Iraq, these mobile transmitters have been
broadcasting from Iraq. The exact number of SOMS-B
units is not revealed, however, it is more than
Since mid-December 2002, SOMS-Bs
have been broadcasting on 756 kHz mediumwave and
11292 kHz shortwave, both frequencies operated at
1 kW of power and transmitting 24 hours a day.
SOMS-B consists of two subsystems,
a Mobile Radio Broadcast System (MRBS) and a mobile
TV Broadcast System (MTBS), but only the radio system
has been used in Iraq. The MTBS can transmit television-quality
video using PAL, SECAM (used by Iraq) or NTSC standards.
The MRBS would be capable of broadcasting also on
FM, although so far FM has not been used.
Commando Solo on assignment
in the Gulf in March 2003 (Photo by US Navy)
Both subsystems consist of a
primary shelter Humvee, a cargo shelter Humvee and
a trailer. The trailer carries a 33 kW generator,
an environmental control unit, and a tent system
called the Deployable Rapid Assembly Shelter (DRASH).
"The coalition continues
to push information to the Iraqi population, and
at this point we've now pushed our ground-based
communications capability further forward by moving
a ground base into Iraq. Up until this point in
time, it was in neighboring countries," said
Brigadier General Vincent Brooks at a Central Command
briefing on March 31, in an apparent reference to
SOMS-B. However, according to information received
by DXing.info, SOMS-B was actually deployed in Iraq
already several days earlier.
countries engaged from February
In mid-February 2003, Information
Radio transmissions were extended. "We're
currently broadcasting on five different radio frequencies
24 hours a day and have been doing so since the
17th of February," said Brigadier General Vincent
Brooks in a Central Command press briefing on March
25. However, it was not the five frequencies nor
the 24-hour transmissions that were new. What Brooks
failed to mention is that for the first time Coalition
partners were involved - and that the extended transmissions
originated from ships.
Broadcasts began from coalition
naval vessels patrolling in the Persian Gulf and
the Gulf of Oman in the northern Arabian Sea. One
ship at a time, primarily performing maritime interdiction
missions, has been relaying Information Radio programming
using whatever transmitters have been available
on the particular ships, says Major Peter Mitchell,
US Marines Public Affairs official at Central Command
forward headquarters in Qatar.
A maritime interdiction
operation on an Iranian cargo ship (Photo by
Currently the ships are broadcasting
only on 9715 kHz shortwave. Transmitter power depends
on the ship in question. Broadcasts begin at 23.00
Baghdad time - when Commando Solo heads back to
its base - and end at 18.00 Baghdad time, when Commando
Solo once again begins its five-hour broadcast.
Together these platforms make 9715 kHz available
for 24 hours a day.
Ships from at least three Coalition
countries (US, UK and Australia) are rotated so
that each ship transmits a few days at a time, before
handing over responsibility to another ship. In
late March 3-4 ships were rotating, but since the
beginning of the naval transmissions in February,
a total of 6-10 ships have been involved in the
Coalition partners have been
reluctant to identify the ships in question to maintain
operational security. As far as the United Kingdom
is concerned, there are three frigates (HMS Chatham,
HMS Marlborough and HMS Richmond) and three destroyers
(HMS Liverpool, HMS Edinburgh and HMS York) which
could be involved. HMS Chatham has previously been
reported operating as a platform for broadcasts
Solo efforts doubled in March
were doubled a few days after the war began. Interestingly,
this move was never mentioned in the Central Command
press briefings, although for instance the leaflet
count has been updated repeatedly. One reason behind
keeping a low profile could be that news about a
second aircraft would have underlined just how small
the Commando Solo resources initially were. The
number of Commando Solo aircraft involved in Iraq
has never been published in briefings or press releases
by the Pentagon and CENTCOM.
"We have ample evidence
that the signal is being received and that Iraqis
are tuning in," says Major Peter Mitchell,
US Marines Public Affairs official at Central
Command forward headquarters in Qatar. (Photo
by Mika Mäkeläinen)
Around March 25,
a second Commando Solo unit began support missions
from the Doha Airport. This aircraft transmits on
693 kHz mediumwave, on 4500 kHz shortwave and on
101.4 MHz FM. The broadcast schedule is from 18.00
to 23.00 Baghdad time. In Europe, 4500 kHz is free
from interference after 1800 UTC and gives a fairly
strong signal, while the other frequencies have
not been reported heard by anyone outside the US
the new frequencies have not yet been published,
but they exist and have already been dropped in
the Northern and Western parts of Iraq, which is
where the new Commando Solo operates. According
to Mitchell, the second unit is temporary.
be a permanent arrangement. For security reasons,
I can't tell you how long two aircraft intend to
operate in the Iraqi theater," he says.
683 kHz has been given as the mediumwave frequency
for the second unit, and 690 kHz for the first,
but as these split frequencies have never been reported
heard by any DXer nor professional monitoring organization,
both are likely typos. Only the crew members of
Commando Solo would know the truth, but they were
unavailable for comment.
is that we're getting the Iraqis close enough to
the actual frequency that they're easily picking
up the signal. I'm unaware of the specifics of what
hobbyists are reporting. I do know that we have
ample evidence that the signal is being received
and that Iraqis are tuning in," Mitchell says.
The different platforms
are operated independently by different PSYOP units,
but all share the same programming material. Although
they have been observed with different program feeds,
this is not an indication of different content,
but is only due to different timing of specific
programs, Mitchell explains.
A member of 193rd Special
Operations Wing (SOW) prepares his EC-130E aircraft
for take off at the Doha Airport in March 2003.
(Photo by US Navy)
By late March, Commando
Solo aircraft were able to fly not only in Southern
Iraq, but practically all over the country. However,
despite the improved output and reach, some have
expressed doubts about the effect of these transmissions.
Iraqi resistance has been tougher than expected
and much fewer troops have surrendered than anticipated
before the war. While the true impact of Information
Radio will not be revealed before the war is over,
officials at CENTCOM are confident that PSYOP is
is currently determined using intelligence sources.
Accordingly, I cannot reveal what we believe the
listenership to be until such time that Iraq is
secure and we can do actual polling after the fact,"
says Major Peter Mitchell.
At least the Iraqi leadership
has reacted to the broadcasts. Before the war began,
President Saddam Hussein himself sought to ridicule
the operation by making fun of leaflets as weapons.
An Air Force crew member
adjusts the output of a transmission during
an EC-130E Commando Solo II training mission
(Photo by USAF).
In an interview with US Central
Command, Air Force Lt. Col. "Mike," a
Commando Solo II detachment commander, said that
"We call ourselves weapons of mass persuasion".
When the war had lasted for two weeks, evidence
was mounting that these weapons of mass persuasion
have resulted if not in mass surrenders, at least
in mass desertions.
Not all of this has been
achieved by only leaflets and radio broadcasts combined
with traditional warfare; PSYOP tools also include
email campaigns, telephone calls, messengers and
TV transmissions, which were begun by Commando Solo
in late March. This was announced by Brigadier General
Vincent Brooks on March 28. PSYOP units also use
loudspeakers to reach enemy troops up to a distance
of nearly 2 kilometers.
There are also weapons of mass
persuasion which the Coalition does not admit having.
Clandestine radio operations such as Voice of
Iraqi Liberation, discovered first by DXing.info,
and Radio Tikrit (see article: Monitoring
Iraq: War of the Airwaves) broadcast practically
the same message as Information Radio, but are presumably
run by the US intelligence community. All together,
the US has launched the broadest and the most sophisticated
psychological warfare operation in modern history
to oust Saddam Hussein.
on your article! It is the most accurate,
most thorough article I've EVER seen on my
unit - and that's saying a lot with the press
we've been receiving lately"
Email from the 193rd SOW
(published on April
5, 2003, sligthly updated later)