British soldiers working to dislodge the Islamic State from Libya are using loud Bollywood music — the percussion-heavy genre popularized by Indian films — to annoy and disorient the enemy, according to multiple reports.
The Times of India cites the British Daily Mirror as having spoken to a source on the ground in Libya who confirmed that UK special forces took the advice of a Pakistani-born officer, who suggested that the music would irritate the jihadis. “We needed to unnerve militants and at the same time use some sort of passive measure to gauge their force strength in the area we are working and it went well,” the source told the Mirror. As the forces on the ground outside Sirte, a port city now long under the control of the jihadi group, are only permitted to operate in non-combat fashion, they have grown to develop creative techniques to disarm the jihadis within the city’s borders.
Within Sirte, where the Islamic State has imposed strict Sharia law, only Islamic music is permitted. Bollywood — with its fast drums and Hindi-language lyrics, many about romance — is a clear violation of the Islamic State’s rules.
This is far from the first report of Western troops using music to disturb jihadis. U.S. forces have been reportedly using Western music for years in the War on Terror. A 2004 report in the St. Petersburg Times described American soldiers in Iraq using heavy metal and rock bands like AC/DC to disturb Saddam Hussein’s army in places like Fallujah, which is now in the hands of the Islamic State. “Western music is not the Iraqis’ thing. So our guys have been getting really creative in finding sounds they think would make the enemy upset,” Army psychological operations command spokesman told the Times. “These harassment missions work especially well in urban settings like Fallujah.”
The St. Petersburg Times cites the first known American instance of the use of this tactic to have occurred in 1989, when soldiers inadvertently annoyed Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega with AC/DC, which they were initially playing for themselves. Since then, from Iraq to Afghanistan and beyond, music has played a role in the liberation of territories by Western soldiers.
The Taliban have reportedly been particularly susceptible to the rock treatment. “Taliban hate that music,” a sergeant in Afghanistan told The Telegraph in 2010, citing The Offspring and Metallica as preferred artists for “psyops.”
The Islamic State, as a Sunni group with strict definitions of what is allowed in Islam, may be particularly susceptible to such operations. ISIS regularly uses nasheeds, or Islamic fight songs, to instill morale in its jihadis. ISIS nasheeds, however, must be a capella to count as “Islamic”; rendering the drums of Bollywood potentially even more offensive. This is in contrast to nasheeds played by Shiite groups such as Hezbollah, which tend to use driving drums to propel the melody.
The Islamic State has had to stall its publication of nasheeds since last July, when Maher Meshaal, the chief songwriter for the terrorist group, was killed by an airstrike in Syria. Meshaal was known as “the author of jihadi hymns such as ‘Saleel al-Sawarem’ and ‘Halomoo Halomoo O’ lions of war.'”