WASHINGTON — The American commander in Afghanistan will order an investigation into accusations that military personnel deployed to win Afghan hearts and minds were instructed over their own objections to carry out “psychological operations” to help convince visiting members of Congress to increase support for the training mission there, military officials said Thursday.
A brief statement issued by the military headquarters in Kabul said Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander in Afghanistan, “is preparing to order an investigation to determine the facts and circumstances surrounding the issue.”
The investigation was prompted by an article released Thursday by Rolling Stone magazine that described an “information operation” or “psychological operation” ordered by Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, who is in charge of training Afghan security forces.
The article said that Caldwell and his senior aides ordered a team of specialists to gather information about distinguished visitors and create a campaign to sway, in particular, traveling American lawmakers to endorse more money and troops for the war. When the officer running the team resisted, saying that it would not be proper, he was ordered in writing to make this his priority.
Under pressure, the article said, quoting the officer and numerous documents, the team eventually gathered biographies and things like the guests’ voting records — a standard task for headquarters staff before visits by congressional delegations. The article quotes a spokesman in Kabul denying that the command used an information operations cell to influence high-ranking visitors.
A previous article in Rolling Stone by the same writer, Michael Hastings, prompted the forced retirement of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who was serving as commander in Afghanistan.
Among those said to have been targets of the information campaign or psychological operation was Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, said that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates thought it was important to determine the facts before drawing any conclusions. But a range of Pentagon and military officials said that it would not necessarily be improper for an information operations cell to gather publicly available biographical material on high-ranking visitors. The central question likely to be under scrutiny is the commander’s intent behind that effort and whether the material was used in a manner that violated regulations.
But that was not the view held at the time by Lt. Col. Michael Holmes, the team leader, who spoke to Rolling Stone and said he thought the order was “crossing a line.”
Faced with a written order to make visits by high-ranking officials his top priority, Holmes sought advice from a military lawyer, Capt. John Scott, who agreed that using information operations “to influence our own folks is a bad idea, and contrary to IO policy,” Rolling Stone reported.