“Are we shooting?”- Strategic Communications Campaign in a Population-Centric Counterinsurgency.

Ariel Garneau


Come 2004, progress in pacifying Iraq following the American-led invasion was not as advanced as hoped. Despite the Iraqi army’s swift defeat, pockets of resistance remained within the country, which served as home-base to suspected Al-Qaeda members and ultimately contributed to prolonging the opening stages of the occupation.

For eight months, the city of Al‐Fallujah in the strategic Sunni Triangle of Iraq, stymied progress in pacifying the country. It harbored the most sought-after insurgents and enabled the logistical operations needed to keep the insurgency afloat during the crucial stages of resistance. Two attempts were needed by American-led coalition forces, to seize the city. Between OP VIGILANT RESOLVE in April 2004 and OP PHANTOM FURY in November 2004 the U.S. Department of Defense was forced to modify its approach in the wake of a disastrous first attempt, enabling a more robust strategic communications plan.

The inclusion of embedded journalists as a component of a Strategic Communications plan during OP PHANTOM FURY proved crucial to American victory, and heralded the arrival of fifth generation warfare. However, in order to do so, the Pentagon was brought to resolve its long-standing and complicated relationship with the mass media, and new media, by addressing issues of bias, and neutrality in war-time reporting and the faults inherent in their communications plan.

The battles for Fallujah illustrate the role and effect of Strategic Communications and DoD media policy as part of Information Operations in a population‐centric counterinsurgency. By shaping perception end‐states - the dimension encompassing the target audiences’ opinions- through embedded journalists enhanced by new media in a Strategic Communications campaign, the U.S. provided the counter-narrative to that of the Iraqi insurgency, allowing the U.S. to maintain the credibility of its actions, and mission.

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JMSS is a publication of the Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.

JMSS gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Social Science and Humanities Research Council.