From The Daily Mail
American soldiers were illegally ordered to apply psychological pressure to U.S. senators as they toured Afghanistan in a bid to secure more troops and money for the military, according to an officer serving in a unit specialising in ‘psy-ops’.
The U.S. Army officer is said to have received an official reprimand after his unit resisted orders, from the command of Lieutenant General William Caldwell, which they said were illegal.
Those said to have been targeted for the operation were former presidential candidate Senator John McCain and VIPs including European diplomats and government ministers.
The allegations are included in the latest revelations about U.S. military operations in Afghanistan from American music, popular culture and politics magazine Rolling Stone.
Rolling Stone ran an article last July entitled The Runaway General that profiled General Stanley McChrystal, who was then commander of the coalition forces in Afghanistan, which sparked a political controversy leading to that general’s resignation.
McChrystal was quoted making critical comments of officials in U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration.
He subsequently apologised but was recalled to Washington DC, where his resignation was accepted by President Obama.
General David Petraeus assumed command and he remains in charge of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), overseeing the planned withdrawal of U.S. forces.
Now soldiers serving in an ‘information operations’ unit at Camp Eggers in Kabul are said to have been repeatedly pressured to target visiting politicians and dignitaries over a four-month period last year.
The leader of the unit, Lieutenant Colonel Michael Holmes, is said to have received an official reprimand after the unit resisted orders, arguing that they violated U.S. laws prohibiting the use of propaganda against fellow citizens.
‘My job in psy-ops is to play with people’s heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave,’ said leader of the unit Lieutenant Colonel Michael Holmes, as quoted by Rolling Stone magazine.
‘I’m prohibited from doing that to our own people. When you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressman, you’re crossing a line.’
Over a four-month period last year, a U.S. Army unit devoted to what is known as ‘information operations’ was repeatedly pressured to target visiting senators and other VIPs who met with Lieutenant General Caldwell.
Verbal orders and emails are said to have required soldiers to compile profiles of visitors including senators’ voting records, their likes and dislikes and issues that the senators considered to be of particular importance.
In addition to Senator McCain, those targeted are said to include influential Senator Al Franken, the Minnesota Democrat, who has previously urged Congress to refuse to pass the bills funding the war.
The names of Connecticut’s Senator Joe Lieberman, who serves on the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, and Michigan’s Senator Carl Levin, who is the chairman of the Armed Services Committee were also mentioned.
Lieutenant General Caldwell’s chief of staff was reported by Rolling Stone to have asked Lieutenant Colonel Holmes: ‘How do we get these guys to give us more people? What do I have to plant inside their heads.’
Lieutenant Colonel Holmes and soldiers under his command are said to have provided the background briefings under duress after trying their best to resist the orders.
Preparing for the visitors was said to take priority over their other duties, including fighting the Taliban.
The Information Operations officer was said to have sought legal advice from a military lawyer, saying the order made him ‘nervous’, and the lawyer was said to have agreed.
Lawyer Captain John Scott advised Lieutenant Colonel Holmes to seek independent advice, saying: ‘Using [Information Operations] to influence our own folks is a bad idea and contrary to to IO policy.’
A spokesman for Lieutenant General Caldwell gave a statement to Rolling Stone that ‘categorically denies the assertion that the command used an Information Operations Cell to influence Distinguished Visitors.’
However, three weeks after the exchange of emails between Lieutenant Colonel Holmes and the military lawyer Captain Scott, the order was revised to require that the unit only use information in the public domain to create the background briefings for incoming visitors.
Lieutenant Colonel Holmes then learned he was the subject of an internal investigation, which had been ordered by Lieutenant General Caldwell’s chief of staff.
The investigation referred to Lieutenant Colonel Holmes going off base in civilian clothes without permission, excessive use of Facebook, and queried the appropriateness of his relationship with a female comrade amongst other things.
Lieutenant Colonel Holmes believes the investigation and the formal reprimand he received were as a result of being targeted for questioning the legality of orders.
In January 2001, Lieutenant General Caldwell’s command asked for another $2billion to train an additional 70,000 Afghan troops, on top of the $11billion already allocated for that purpose.
There is no way of knowing whether the alleged attempts to influence the visiting senators will have any impact on American policy.
U.S. politicians are currently debating a $1.2 trillion spending bill, which includes $158 billion for military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.