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Debunking the myth

By Capt. Russell Craig
First published in
SFOR Informerr#127, November 28, 2001

The Psychological Support Branch (PSB) is situated in Butmir camp, Sarajevo. The branch's aim is to provide co-ordinated, multi-media Peace Support Psychological Activities (PSPA) in support of COMSFOR's campaign within BiH.

Camp Butmir - Psychological operations (PSYOPS) brings to mind a shadowy world of subterfuge and intrigue, conducted from ill-lit underground bunkers. In fact nothing could be further from the truth, as can be gathered the moment you step within the PSB building. On its walls are bright and colourful posters, many of which depict cartoon characters.
The truth
"Psyops always tells the truth. It's a big difference frompropaganda, we don't have propaganda anymore in the western armed forces. People using the Internet, satellite TV and the papers can find out if you're not telling the truth. Therefore, you lose credibility, (which) is one of the most important things for usIt is one of the iron rules that PSYOPS is always telling the truth," explained German Lt. Col. Wolfgang Greven, chief of PSB.
The aims of PSYOPS are in strict accordance with what is allowed by PSPA, namely: to create a supportive atmosphere and willingness to co-operate among the parties in conflict and the civilian population in the area of operations. It can also be used to assist in the achievement of mission objectives and for force protection. In particular to this theatre the aims are three: to discourage violence against SFOR; to encourage compliance with the General Framework Agreement for Peace (GFAP); and to dissuade violence among the ethnicities. Thus PSB has covered such topics as SFOR's image and weapon collection.
"We have three statuses. Status white means that we always name the source. Status grey means that we don't name the source and we have status black where you actually, I always say, work under the cover. However, PSYOPS products always tell the truth," said Greven as he explained operational methods.
Once the message that SFOR wishes to transmit is chosen and the state too - BiH is on white at the moment - the most suitable media is then calculated. The media available includes TV advertisements, radio stations, magazines, newspaper advertisements and billboards. The actual mix of media is calculated from experience, consultation of local people and by pre-campaign testing.
"The anti terrorist campaign. I run it like Coca-Cola. Adverts in newspapers and magazines, two weeks of radio spots, two weeks of TV spots, by the end of the month billboards over BiH. That's the way Coca-Cola would do it," commented Greven.
The actual construction of the campaign material rests heavily on two people within PSB. German WO2 Dominic Huber of the graphics team explained the process:
"We get a theme, we think about it. He (the PSB illustrator) is more the artist and I am more the computer freak. So we fix something togetherWe produce different versions of the posters to give to the team and they will approve or modify." The actual artwork is created by Senad Mavric, a Bosnian civilian working in PSB.
Recent themes for campaigns have included the anti terrorist message which has been produced in response to the attacks of Sept. 11. "(They) quote political and religious leaders from all over the world on terrorism. It shows people that we are not fighting Islam but terrorism," stressed Greven.
Another striking campaign is in support of Operation Harvest, which seeks to remove illegal weapons from circulation. Eye-catching posters are coupled with a shift in the way the message is presented:
"My way to do it is that we shouldn't be the teachers any more after six years in this country, telling the people if you don't do that, you wont get this...They are sick of that and have a right to be sick of that. So what we actually try to do now is to give them the idea that what we promote here comes out of their own society, and it actually does in many cases. Because we are speaking to the people and asking them where does it hurt andwhat theme should we make popular," said Greven.
In this case the message is promoted by a real story drawn from local press. The billboards tell the tale of a boy who was accidentally shot by his brother who had found his dad's gun and was playing with it.
Greven noted that from independent surveys conducted by Gallup and letters received from top BiH politicians it is apparent that the PSB messages are being well received by the people of BiH. So the next time you see a striking poster on a billboard look out for the SFOR insignia. If you see it then it is probably part of the PSB's efforts in helping SFOR achieve its mission.

Related link: SFOR at Work