Foreign Policy Insurgency

Operation Ramadan?

By Oliver Kaplan

US Army PSYOP Leaflet Drop, Iraq, 2008. Via Wikimedia.

Today I’m writing about the possibility of conducting psy-ops in Syria, Colombia-style. One year ago, observers decried the unabated killings of protestors and civilians in Syria during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Could this year be different? Although conditions have deteriorated significantly over the past year, this Ramadan period (July 20-August 18) could offer a key opening to persuade fighters to stop attacking civilians, to lay down their arms, and be with their families.  With great respect for this important Muslim holiday, I offer a psy-ops campaign for consideration.

Colombia can offer a model for such a campaign as it has become an innovator of new strategies to stanch armed conflict due to the duration and severity of the violence it has suffered. During December of 2010, in what was dubbed “Operation Christmas,” the Colombian military installed and decorated Christmas trees with demobilization messages in the jungle at key guerrilla crossroads and ran a media campaign to persuade fighters to lay down their arms and go back home to their families (and also persuade guerrillas’ family members to lure them back home). According to the Colombian government, this led to an increase in demobilizations.

In applying such a model in Syria, efforts could be aimed speeding defections within the Syrian military and its allied militias (in contrast to Colombia, where rebels were the objects of the operations). An effective campaign would not require that Christmas trees or Muslim relics be scattered around Homs or Damascus. Rather, moral messages about the sanctity of life, perhaps tied to relevant religious teachings, could be especially salient during Ramadan. These messages could be spread through media strategies such as Twitter, radio, or airdrops of pamphlets, and would be a relatively costless tactic to try. Recent weeks have seen a growing number of defections from the Syrian military, including a top general who was a key Assad ally. Creative psy-ops at an opportune moment could help further tip the balance.

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