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Quran Burning a PSYOP Failure in Afghanistan

Quran Burning a PSYOP Failure in Afghanistan

Afghanistan has imploded once again. Riots swarm epicenters, people have been injured, and now reports of deaths unfold. Islam’s most holy book, the Quran, has been desecrated, and US forces have been deemed the culprits.

The real culprits in today’s complex situation in Afghanistan are not the US-led coalition–rather, a few select prisoners who successfully brought masses of locals together. This tactic was achieved from inside prison cells. Amazingly, without any assistance from the outside world, a bunch of prisoner’s activities fueled battle against the United States.

Prisoners desecrated the Quran by utilizing the holy book for coded messaging. This act is a very old and historic tactic utilized in many past conflicts among prisoners. While the Quran may or may not have been used in the past, religious books, which are mandated by law to be available to prisoners, have been utilized for communication purposes.

US forces intercepted these covert communications and rapidly disrupted them. The holy texts were confiscated and destroyed. Unfortunately, the initial defacing of the texts caused by prisoners was never revealed to the local indigenous population through a proper psychological operations (PSYOP) campaign.


Had a proper PSYOP campaign occurred, the current effects of riots and protests would likely have never evolved. For years, astute military advisors pushed the idea of incorporating Islamic principles in PSYOP campaigns. Some military leaders understood the need however many did not. For those who refused to listen to their advisers, only one reason comes to mind–political correctness.

The majority of Afghans believe the US-led coalition are comprised of “people of the book.” This means that they understand we are not followers of Islam. They also realize how intelligent we are in doing everything in our power to study their culture, values, and religion.

One mistake can cause chaos, and we often must walk on our tippy toes when interacting with the local populace. One wrong move and all hell could break loose, as observed currently. Of course, we have made many wrong moves in the past ten-plus years in Afghanistan, but we have done much more good than bad ,and most Afghans know this.

General Allen did his best to ease the situation, but that was not good enough. The State Department also did their best, yet that, too, wasn’t enough. Reactionary actions are never enough. We must be proactive when dealing with the Afghan people. A proper proactive tactic would have been to launch nationwide messages showing how un-Islamic many prisoners are. We cannot do this, however, because as a whole, American political correctness has socially conditioned us to never discuss religion with those who believe differently.

Richard Brodie states in his book Virus of the Mind, “The meme is the secret code of human behavior, a Rosetta stone finally giving us the key to understanding religion, politics, psychology, and cultural evolution. That key, though, also unlocks Pandora’s box, opening up such sophisticated new techniques for mass manipulation…”

Psychological operations are truly meant to serve as meme warfare. With sound PSYOPs, an entire nation-state’s population can catch a mental virus. That virus spreads rapidly, causing people to behave in ways we desire. Our enemy in Afghanistan has perfected the meme warfare tactic while we have failed time and again.

There is a reason why the war in Afghanistan has prolonged itself. That reason doesn’t necessarily entail poor rules of engagement, a stronger enemy force, or lack of numbers. One of the main reasons Afghanistan has been a blunder is because the United States and our partners have been manipulated and we simply do not know how to counter Afghan manipulation practices.

The Afghan enemy loves to manipulate anyone they can, and we have become perfect targets. We listen, do what is asked, and pay the price. This is not the first time an incident involving the Quran unfolded, and it will likely not be the last. Until we learn how to properly mitigate future uproar due to similar incidents through sound PSYOP campaigns, local reactions will be the same.

Kerry Patton, a combat service disabled veteran, is a senior analyst for WIKISTRAT and owner of IranWarMonitor.com.  He has worked in South America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Europe, focusing on intelligence and security and interviewing current and former terrorists, including members of the Taliban.  He is the author of Sociocultural Intelligence: The New Discipline of Intelligence Studies and the children’s book American Patriotism.  You can follow him on Facebook.

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