Fearing tipping point, CIA backs European propaganda campaign

IssueMay 2010
News by Gabriel Carlyle

The CIA is worried that “a spike in French or German casualties or in Afghan civilian casualties could become a tipping point in converting passive opposition into active calls for immediate withdrawal”, according to a confidential document leaked to the Swedish-based online organisation Wikileaks.

According to the “Red Cell Memorandum”, dated 11 March 2010 and marked NOFORN (“no foreign nationals”), the CIA has privately recommended a “strategic communication program across NATO troop contributors... tap[ping] into the key concerns of specific Western European audiences” in order “provide a buffer if today’s apathy becomes tomorrow’s opposition”.

The memo, entitled “Afghanistan: Sustaining West European Support for the NATO-led Mission: Why Counting on Apathy Might Not Be Enough”, notes that until now the Afghan mission’s “low public salience has allowed French and German leaders to disregard popular opposition and steadily increase their troop contributions... despite the opposition of 80 percent of German and French respondents” to troop increases.

German and French forces make up, respectively, the third- and fourth-largest national blocks of NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Canada recently confirmed that it is set to withdraw its 2,800 troops later this year, and the Dutch government recently collapsed after failing to agree a NATO request to extend the tour of its 2,000-strong contingent. The CIA memo notes: “If domestic politics force the Dutch to depart, politicians elsewhere might cite a precedent for ‘listening to the voters’” – clearly an intolerable possibility.

Ideal messengers

For German audiences the memo recommends emphasising the mission’s “multilateral and humanitarian aspects” to help counter the Germans’ “allergy to armed conflict”.

For the French, “dramati[sing] the potential adverse consequences of a [NATO] defeat for Afghan civilians” to “leverage French (and other European) guilt for abandoning them”, as well as using opinion polls “[h]ighlighting Afghans’ broad support” for the NATO mission.

In both countries, it recommends the use of Afghan women as “ideal messengers in humanising the ISAF role in combating the Taliban”.

Topics: Afghanistan