U.S. Military Turns to Video of 9/11/01
to Win Hearts and Minds of Afghans

By MIKE ECKEL, Associated Press Writer

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TADOKHIEL, Afghanistan - To some, the images on the screen were vaguely familiar: airplanes exploding into tall, glittering buildings; well-dressed people running from billowing clouds; firefighters, rubble, dust, destruction.

To most in the village of Tadokhiel, however, the images of the destruction of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were incomprehensible.

For the past several months, U.S. Army Psychological Operations units have traveled around Afghanistan) talking to officials, promoting the fledgling government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and trying to convince Afghans of the United States' good intentions.

The unit's "information operations" publish Dari- and Pashtun-language newspapers and leaflets and produce radio broadcasts. In the past month, PsyOps has turned to a military-produced video  complete with Dari- and Pashtun-language voiceovers, graphics and Afghan music  to get the military's message out: "Why the United States is in Afghanistan."

On a recent trip to this dusty, crumbling hamlet two hours' drive northeast of Kabul, army medics and dentists set up a health clinic in the village school to offer medicine, check on decayed teeth and warn about the dangers of land mines.

Hundreds of men, women and children crowded the cordoned-off square, sitting or squatting, watching the Americans. Soldiers allowed groups of a dozen to walk forward, then stopped them in front of a television set to watch the three-minute video.

The villagers watched the jets flying into the Twin Towers. They watched firefighters hauling debris from the pile that the towers became. They watched U.S. fighter jets firing missiles into what appeared to be Afghan villages. They watched American soldiers carrying boxes of humanitarian aid and saw images of Afghan girls attending school.

They looked up now and again to watch the American soldiers, who had driven up in a swirl of trucks and Humvees, handing out brightly colored vitamin pills and ball point pens. Then they went back to watching the video.

Most of the villagers had never seen a television. Few had ever seen pictures of New York City. Most knew only vaguely that something had happened on Sept. 11. None in Tadokhiel have electricity or running water.

"I watched the (the video) because they made us," said Shamsuddin, 41, an unemployed former mujahadeen fighter who uses only one name. "It was a bad thing that those terrorists flew. It was not Muslim."

"I didn't know why we had to watch the video. It was strange but I didn't mind," said Mirzagul, a 65-year-old watchman at the village school who also uses only one name.

Mirzagul said when the American bombing campaign started last November, he was sad, confused and angry. He's glad the Americans have brought a semblance of stability to the country. When the country is fully secure, he'll be glad for the Americans to leave.

"We don't like foreigners to stay here forever," he said.

No one is required to watch the video to receive medical treatment, said Staff Sgt. Samuel Escobar, of the Fort Bragg, North Carolina-based 9th PSYOP Battalion. Most Afghans watch it out of curiosity. In Tadokhiel, however, villagers must walk directly past the television and the PsyOps soldiers to reach the entrance to the medical clinic. No villagers refused to watch, though some only partly paid attention.

The videos, which were produced by the 8th Psychological Operations Battalion also of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, are a high priority for U.S. operations around Afghanistan, said Maj. Gen. John R. Vines, who oversees the bulk of the conventional forces operating in Afghanistan.

"It makes clear to the Afghan people why we are here," Vines said. "They understand that we, like they, have a responsibility to defend our homes against attack."

A teenage girl whose face is shrouded by a burqa said she had heard people in the village talking about the Sept. 11 attacks last year, and she knew many people had died. She wished the Americans would do more to bring food to her family and the village.

"The buildings were pretty (in the video). It's terrible that those al-Qaida people crashed those planes," the girl said, declining to give her name for fear she would be ostracized for talking to a man.

Said Agha, a 50-year-old bean and wheat farmer, said he hated the harsh Taliban regime and was happy that the Americans had forced it out. He said he was sad to hear how many had died on Sept. 11 and bore no ill will toward the Americans over the Afghan civilians killed since the U.S. military operations began last year.

"We want peace in our country. We don't want any more fighting," Agha said.

PsyOps plans a children's version of the video, Escobar said, and the team intends to show the videos as much as possible in coming months. He bristles at the idea that the video was propaganda.

"The stuff we do, the public should be as receptive to it as the Afghans are," he said. "The more we tell them, the better off they are."