Words used as weapons in Libya intervention

AP News
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Posted: Mar 29, 2011 2:43 PM
Words used as weapons in Libya intervention

Words are weapons, too. And in the battle to undermine Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi, international military forces are scattering leaflets across the countryside and invading the nation's airwaves with anti-Gadhafi messages to his troops.

The messages: Refuse to obey Gadhafi's orders, stop fighting, go home to your families.

A senior defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said eavesdropping indicated that Gadhafi's forces are aware of the messages.

Although each day the Pentagon reports the number of bombs it has dropped in the Libya intervention, it has said little about the information campaign blanketing the country.

But coalition planes have dropped leaflets a number of times, including Sunday, when they targeted Gadhafi ground troops near Misrata, other military officials said on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly about the effort.

The U.S. also has broadcast messages to Libyan forces from the Air Force's EC-130 Commando Solo, a specially-modified Hercules transport that conducts information operations and psychological operations and broadcasts in AM, FM, high-frequency radio, TV and military communications bands.

Officials have acknowledged its use but given few details, except that it has broadcast messages in English and Arabic over Libya telling government forces to cease hostilities and citing the U.N. resolution calling for the no-fly zone. Officials would not confirm the exact wording of the texts, but said the messages are aimed at urging pro-Gadhafi forces to avoid harming civilians who are seeking to oust Gadhafi.

"The Commando Solo can be used to broadcast factual information to the Libyan public," said Marine Corps Capt. Flint Gebke, a spokesman the command that's running the international campaign. "The Libyan people deserve to hear factual information about the international community's resolve to mobilize military assets to prevent further escalation of the current crisis Libya."

Such messaging operations have become common in military campaigns.

The flying radio and television broadcast mission was used to reach out to citizens of Grenada in the 1983 U.S. invasion that followed a military coup there. It was used to help persuade Iraqi soldiers to surrender in the Persian Gulf war of 1990-91. And the Defense Department also broadcast anti-Saddam Hussein messages over Iraq for months before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam but which officials said was to hunt for weapons of mass destruction.

Leaflets warning Iraqi soldiers not to fire at American aircraft and stressing Saddam's suppression of the Iraqi people also were dropped before the 2003 invasion.

In earlier years of the war in Afghanistan, the coalition dropped leaflets with pictures of burning World Trade Center towers accompanied by the words, "The coalition forces have come to Afghanistan to arrest those who were responsible for the terrorist attacks in the United States." It had a message to militants on the flip side: "Members of Taliban and al-Qaida! We know where you are hiding."

Apart from propaganda efforts to weaken Gadhafi's control of his troops, the international coalition has worked in Libya to cut communications between Gadhafi and his forces, bombing command and control centers and using electronic jamming equipment, officials said.

"Any time that we can cut off communications between leadership and the forces in the field, or create confusion between leadership and the forces in the field, we're seeking to do that," Vice Adm. William Gortney, staff director for the Joint Chiefs, told a Pentagon press conference last week. "You can do that many different ways ... and we're using every tool in our toolbox to do that."

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Associated Press writer Lolita Baldor contributed to this report.