Psychological Operations in Bosnia

"Operations Joint Endeavor  and Joint Guard"

Bosnia-Herzegovina, a nation that for over 600 years has been divided and embroiled in a civil war. A nation with very few operating public communication means, news magazines were non-existent and newspapers were few, expensive and had limited circulation. Add to that an existing power struggle between opposing political leaders in the Republika Srpska (RS), with a faction led by anti-NATO hard-liners beginning inflammatory broadcasts attacking the NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR) and the General Framework Agreement for Peace (GFAP), and you have a scenario ripe for psychological operations (PSYOP) intervention.

Initially the PSYOP campaign was aimed at the local population of Bosnia-Herzegovina and designed to shape attitudes and behavior in favor of Implementation Force (IFOR) and its successor, the Stabilization Force (SFOR) operations. Although the requirements clearly called for psychological operations support, some NATO personnel were hesitant to use the term "psychological operations campaign."   After some discussion it was decided that NATO forces would carry out an "IFOR Information Campaign (IIC)".  Regardless of the name chosen, the "information campaign" was a psychological operations campaign. It was conducted by PSYOP forces and according to NATO's draft peace support psychological activities doctrine.

The IFOR Information Campaign (IIC) was primarily conceived as a force protection tool. First, by making NATO's mandate and intentions clear to the local population, the IIC sought to prevent misunderstanding leading to unnecessary violence. Second, the IIC objective was to ensure broad compliance with the Dayton Peace Agreement and discourage the factions from interfering with IFOR/SFOR operations. The themes and objectives, approved in December 1995, reflected the overwhelming importance attached to the force protection aspect of the mission. Indeed, a majority of themes emphasized that IFOR/SFOR had robust rules of engagement and the capability to enforce the peace agreement, and would respond in an even-handed manner to all violations of the peace agreement. Further themes sought to discourage the factions and local populations from hindering IFOR/SFOR operations and to encourage cooperation with NATO.

The civil war in Bosnia has contributed to some other major areas of concern which have made peace difficult. Among them are:

  • Unemployment – Most of the businesses and industry are gone. It is estimated that Bosnia is operating at one-tenth of the pre-war productivity. This lack of industry has resulted in an unemployment rate as high as 60 to 90% in some areas.
  • Economy - In the transition from a communist, managed based economy to a free-market economy, the Bosnian economy consists essentially of mom and pop run small businesses with a heavy dose of black market activity. While other Eastern European countries saw the breakdown of communism and the Soviet Union as an opportunity to enter the capitalist market, Bosnia was too busy embroiled in their civil war. To make matters worse, the former Yugoslavia relied heavily on foreign aid from the Soviet Union. When the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union broke up that support stopped coming.
  • Refugees – There are tens of thousands of refugees that have been displaced from their homes due to the civil war. Civil Affairs and PSYOP personnel will continue to play a crucial roll if the resettlement process is expected to be a success.

Concept of Operations

The PSYOP campaign was designed to influence the local populations and the former warring factions to cooperate with NATO activities. To achieve these goals, the task force ran a multimedia campaign, albeit a limited one, and sought to use step-by-step psychological processes to entice attitudinal changes. To accomplish this the Combined Joint Psychological Operations Task Force oversaw the operation of 34 subordinate organizations, including theater, divisional, and brigade support elements as well as tactical PSYOP teams.

Bosnia has reinforced the fact that the United States active military force alone is not equipped to support peace keeping operations over a sustained period. The contribution of Army and Air Force National Guard and Reserve Units in medicine, intelligence, law enforcement, public affairs, psychological operations and civil affairs have clearly been instrumental in the overall success of the operation.   The 4th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne) out of Fort Bragg, the United States Army only full time active duty Psychological Operations Group, was initially given the mission to support the information campaign.  Due to the size of the theater and projected length of the mission, virtually all reserve psychological operations units were called up for active duty to assist in the accomplishment of the mission. In June 1996,  part of the 346th PSYOP Company began their deployment to Bosnia along with other elements of the 15th PSYOP BN (POB), 2nd PSYOP Group (POG). In all the 15th POB deployed one Division Psychological Support Element (designated DPSE 20) and three Brigade Psychological Support Elements (BPSE's) each with three enhanced Tactical PSYOP Teams (TPT's) to Task Force Eagle as well as elements to support the British forces in Multi-National Division (MND) Southwest (SW). In addition, 7th Psychological Operations Group personnel manned "Red Ball", a PSYOP element headquartered at the Headquarters, Combined Joint Information Task Force (HQ CJIICTF) in Sarajevo which served as a transportation element delivering products to the various MNDs, and was used to fill in gaps in the theater by doing dissemination as required. The deployment also included officers mobilized from HQ 15th POB and HQ 2nd POG who served in the Corps PSYOP Support Element (CPSE) and the Combined Joint Information Task Force (CJIICTF) with the Commander, 2nd POG serving as the Commander CJIICTF. PSYOP units operated solely in Bosnia, with assets spread throughout the American (Tuzia), British (Banja Luka) and French (Sarajevo) sectors.

Listed below is a list of the Psychological Operations Reserve Units that participated in Operations Joint Endeavor  and Joint Guard:

2nd Psychological Operations Group bosniamap.jpg (20439 bytes)
7th Psychological Operation Group
93rd Psychological Operation Center
10th Psychological Operation Battalion
11th Psychological Operations Battalion
12th Psychological Operations Battalion
13th Psychological Operations Battalion
14th Psychological Operations Battalion
15th Psychological Operations Battalion
17th Psychological Operations Battalion
353rd Psychological Operation Battalion
301st Psychological Operations Company
303rd Psychological Operations Company
305th Psychological Operations Company
306th Psychological Operations Company
312th Psychological Operations Company
315th Psychological Operations Company
319th Psychological Operations Company
320th Psychological Operations Company
339th Psychological Operations Company
346th Psychological Operations Company
361st Psychological Operations Company
362nd Psychological Operations Company
HHC 12th Psychological Operations Battalion
HHC 16th Psychological Operations Battalion

A Multimedia Campaign

The PSYOP campaign sought to reach the local population through a multimedia campaign relying mostly on NATO-owned assets. In the Bosnia context, where the factions tightly controlled the local media and used them to propagate their self-serving propaganda, IFOR/SFOR needed to circumvent the local media to effectively reach the local audiences. Also, in a country where people are accustomed to modern media and have relatively sophisticated expectations, the PSYOP campaign sought to take advantage of several venues to disseminate its message. To achieve these goals, NATO resorted to a variety of self-owned media:

  • The 193rd Special Operations Wing (PAANG).   The Commando Solo Airborne Broadcast Platform The EC-130E of the 193rd Special Operations Wing broadcasted airborne psychological broadcast missions in the standard AM, FM, high frequency, television (TV) and military communication bands. Missions were flown at maximum altitudes to ensure optimum propagation patterns. Highly specialized modifications had been made to the latest EC-130E variant, including enhanced navigation systems, self-protection equipment and the capability of broadcasting color television on a multitude of global standards throughout the TV VHF/UHF ranges.

    Three Air National Guard EC-130Es were deployed from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to a base in Italy, an hour flight across the Adriatic Sea from Sarajevo. This was a direct response to persistent hostile Bosnian-Serb radio and television propaganda from the Karadzic faction.

    Operating from Brindisi, Italy, the EC-130Es were equipped with high-power transmitters for TV, AM and FM radio broadcasting. The planes could also operate as jamming devices against Bosnian-Serb hard-liners’ TV and radio broadcasts or simply overpower their signal, blasting them off the air and replacing them with other programs. The aircraft executed three test flights over Bosnia-Herzegovina in September, testing radio broadcasting equipment as a nonviolent "show of force" by SFOR. The aircraft successfully broadcast programs from the SFOR radio station "MIR" (peace) without disruptions.

  • Radio stations. The number and location of the IFOR/SFOR radio stations varied throughout the operations with a peak number of of 59 stations. Originally, IFOR set up five radio stations located in the five most populated cities across the country: Sarajevo, Tuzla, Banja-Luka, Mrkonjic Grad, and Mostar (struck down by a lightning on 14 September 1996). During the first six months of SFOR operations, the CJICTF operated three radio stations in Sarajevo (Radio Mir), Brcko, and Coralici. In the fall of 1997, the French-led MND (SE) agreed to man and operate a new station in Mostar. These radio operated at least 18 hours a day with music, news bulletins, and messages.
  • Television spots. The Multi-National Division (North) (MND-N) inaugurated a supporting information program to counter Serb broadcasts. The division commander appeared on local television outlets, both live and by videotape, to counter the anti-NATO and anti-SFOR broadcasts. Approximately 70 percent of the Bosnian population could receive SFOR television broadcasts through eight repeater transmitters. As of March 1997, IFOR/SFOR had produced 51 television spots to be given to local stations throughout theater
  • mirko.jpgThe German OPINFO battalion developed Mirko, A monthly youth magazine designed to appeal to the teenage audience. Publication began in June 1996 and production increased to reach 100,000 copies per edition in fall 1997.


superman.jpg (44626 bytes)    

  • Friendly freebies.  As this was a war torn environment, many of the items we take for granted were in short supply and well received by the local population. Among the items passed out were products especially designed for children, such as coloring books with crayons or coloring pencils, soccer balls and basketballs with the SFOR logo, SFOR logo pens, and notebook writing pads with the SFOR logo. Perhaps one of the more unique handouts was a "Superman" comic book in which Superman warns the children of Bosnia-Herzegovina about the dangers of land mines.
  • Command and Troop Information/Phrase Cards.  In order to assist the Multinational troops assigned to the IFOR/SFOR, 517,000 command and troop information/phrase cards were distributed. 
  • MND(N) psychological operators assisted the International Police Task Force (IPTF), a UN entity composed of civilian police officers from numerous nations,  in implementing the GFAP. These officers monitored and occasionally helped Bosnian police maintain order on election day. IPTF personnel had freedom of movement privileges through SFOR checkpoints. Under the GFAP’s Annex 11, IPTF was responsible for monitoring and advising police (upon request) on polling places’ security. Additionally, the IPTF monitored to ensure that electoral regulations were strictly followed in the vicinity of polling places, particularly those regulations dealing with political activity, freedom of movement and access and the posting of political propaganda. They also attempted to remedy election security regulation violations by bringing them to the attention of local police officials, the LEC and other appropriate authorities.

    IPTF operations were hampered because members lacked investigative or enforcement powers and could only counsel and advise local police. Thus, IPTF officers depended greatly on developing rapport with the local police and population to promote cooperation and indirect influence. PSYOP soldiers also assisted, promoting their credibility through leaflets prepared in Serb-Croatian for general distribution in areas where the IPTF was active, explaining their roles under the GFAP.

Approximately 6,700 Americans and 25,000 other NATO troops continue to serve in Bosnia. One might ask why is NATO still involved when they could have declared a victory long ago. After all , Serb, Muslim and Croat forces are separated, their weapons and equipment stored and inventoried; and their training is monitored closely to ensure it complies with the 1995 Dayton Peace Accord.

Perhaps the best explanation was given was by an old Muslim who when asked what he thought of the NATO forces replied: "They are standing between the two of us, me and him (pointing at a Serb), and we are trying to kill each other. The same day you pull out, we are going to start fighting again". So until the decision is made that we are no longer needed in country, you can expect that psychological operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina will continue to  be used to aid in stability and support operations.