SOUTHERN ZONE, Morocco – Special operations missions require a wide variety of skillsets that can be applied at a small unit level to achieve strategic goals as efficiently as possible.
Partnered alongside American military instructors, members of Morocco’s special operations forces (SOF) acquired new skills that could help resolve dangerous tactical situations while minimizing loss of life.
A pair of Military Information Support Operations (MISO) instructors from Special Operations Command Forward Northwest Africa provided training to a small group of Moroccan operators on March 8, 2017 in Tifnit, Morocco, an opportunity made possible through Exercise Flintlock 2017.
Sponsored by U.S. Africa Command and led by U.S. Special Operations Command Africa, this year marks the tenth iteration of Africa’s largest special operations forces exercise, which brings together over 2,000 personnel from 24 partner nations in order to build partner capacity in countering violent extremist organizations and other regional threats. The MISO instructors complemented a training cadre from Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command as they partnered with their Moroccan counterparts during the three-week exercise.
MISO activities are built upon one principal idea: that human will is shaped by information, beliefs and perceptions.
“To conduct good [information operations], good MISO, you need an overall end state for what you’re trying to accomplish,” said the MISO element leader. “Yeah, we’re trying to battle violent extremist organizations and most of the time it’s kinetic, but that might not be the best answer and may just cause more problems. Engaging the people -- getting them the proper amount of information, the right information, through whatever means they receive the information from—showing them we’ll back up what we say with what we’ll do, they’ll in turn trust us or the host nation government.”
To have effective communications of any kind, whether between military forces and terrorist fighters or between longtime neighbors and friends, the communicator must have a clear understanding of what they are trying to communicate, with whom they want to connect and where and how that exchanging of information should take place. Effective audience analysis is the cornerstone of effective MISO actions. In a series of real-life examples and explanations, the instructors highlighted the need for MISO-trained personnel to be educated on current events, history, culture and socio-political characteristics of their intended audience. An accurate and thorough analysis of those conditions will yield significant results for diligent operators.
For the students attending the training session, MISO represent a new capability that could be easily resourced and implemented within their unit.
“The resources that they need to conduct information operations (IO) or MISO, they already have them,” said the MISO element leader. “All you really need is a computer and printer so you can print out leaflets and handbills, and you can make posters.”
The other MISO instructor agreed, adding that at the fundamental level, an effective series of MISO activities depends on having a group of people who have studied their intended audience, know their own capabilities and can effectively communicate their messages within the society. Equipment and specific tactical approaches can serve as very helpful tools for the MISO professional.
“For each unit we gave an overall class on how MISO can help with shaping the environment and how using a loudspeaker can facilitate a non-kinetic means of engaging certain populations instead of going in there with guns blazing,” said the MISO element leader.
Previous training sessions with the Moroccan special operations forces provided familiarization with this a piece of equipment, known as the “Next Generation Loudspeaker System.” Able to support vehicle-based operations or those on foot, the system provides the capability to project audible messages at distances up to 1,500 meters under ideal terrain and weather conditions. But the system is merely a tool to communicate information. Like the overall MISO capability, the loudspeaker can be used to support a broad spectrum of special operations missions. The instructors illustrated this point to the Moroccan operators by suggesting the system’s use in a humanitarian assistance or disaster relief scenario.
“We can use it to provide information to the population, like ‘Hey, this is where you need to go for food. This is where certain health facilities are at, and then you can provide general updates throughout the operation,” said the element leader.
In addition to passing helpful information to a civilian population in need, MISO capabilities can be applied against a much more dangerous situation, such as in support of a direct-action raid or an assault on a terrorist-held facility.
“Sometimes when [fighters] are on the objective and might not be dedicated -- they might be fearful or they’re being held against their will or some other means -- doing a tactical callout could sound something like ‘We’re here to help and if you surrender, you can be treated better than how you’re currently being treated.’ We appeal to their needs and senses. Most of the time, it works. In extreme cases, it doesn’t and an assault element must go in and get them. We trained them on using the loudspeaker for engaging enemy fighters or for engaging populations to convey messages that the commander sees fit,” said the element leader.
To emphasize the flexibility of purpose, the operators were organized into two groups and given a homework assignment: conduct MISO mission planning in support of a humanitarian peacekeeping operation in two specific countries currently experiencing instability and threats to civilian populations. The assignment would provide them with a realistic construct to test their research and analysis skills, looking at the history, attributes, vulnerabilities and underlying conditions driving the instability and danger. The final requirement levied was an appropriate messaging strategy, identification of methods and the audience analysis. True to form for how special operations forces push responsibility and authority to the lowest levels, the junior member of each team would deliver the group’s findings the next day.
“The SOF mindset strictly focuses on the lowest man needing to know and his ability to articulate for the plan to get accomplished,” said the element leader.
“The [Moroccan operators] have been very intelligent; they are able to pick up on things very quickly and repeat the same classes to each other. Hopefully they’ll be able to implement them in the future,” said the other MISO instructor.
Through our networked approach and partnered training such as Exercise Flintlock 2017, the United States and its strategic allies are better positioned to achieve our shared desired outcomes. By teaching each other and enhancing our interoperability, we share the burden of managing conflicts and provide tailored security solutions to meet threats at their origin.