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Psy-Ops and the General

Photos of Let. Gen. Caldwell with Sen. McCain, Sen. Reed and others

Dar Yasin/AP Photo

Caldwell, the commander of NATO's mission to train Afghan police and soldiers, in Kabul, Afghanistan, on February, 12, 2011.

The U.S. Army illegally ordered a team of soldiers specializing in "psychological operations" to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war, Rolling Stone has learned – and when an officer tried to stop the operation, he was railroaded by military investigators. The orders came from the command of Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, a three-star general in charge of training Afghan troops – the linchpin of U.S. strategy in the war. Over a four-month period last year, a military cell devoted to what is known as "information operations" at Camp Eggers in Kabul was repeatedly pressured to target visiting senators and other VIPs who met with Caldwell.

The text in this gallery is excerpted from the February 24, 2011 rollingstone.com article, Another Runaway General: Army Deploys Psy-Ops on U.S. Senators, by Michael Hastings.

Photograph by Guy A. Volb

Lt. Col. Michael Holmes

Holmes, the leader of the "information operations" unit that was ordered to target American VIPs, in the Tajbeg Palace, Darul-Aman, September, 2010.

"My job in psy-ops is to play with people’s heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave," says Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, the leader of the IO unit, who received an official reprimand after bucking orders. "I’m prohibited from doing that to our own people. When you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressman, you’re crossing a line."

Photograph by Staff Sgt. Sarah Brown/U.S. Air Force

Lt. Gen. William Caldwell

Caldwell looks out at Kandahar, Afghanistan, on June 2, 2010.

Caldwell seemed more eager to advance his own career than to defeat the Taliban. "We called it Operation Fourth Star," says Holmes. "Caldwell seemed far more focused on the Americans and the funding stream than he was on the Afghans. We were there to teach and train the Afghans. But for the first four months it was all about the U.S. Later he even started talking about targeting the NATO populations." At one point, according to Holmes, Caldwell wanted to break up the IO team and give each general on his staff their own personal spokesperson with psy-ops training.

Photograph by Staff Sgt. Sarah Brown/U.S. Air Force

Lt. Gen. William Caldwell and Marine Col. Gregory Breazile

Caldwell and Breazile walk through downtown Kabul on June 10, 2010.

In March 2010, Col. Gregory Breazile issued a written order that "directly tasked" Holmes to conduct an IO campaign against "all DV visits" – short for "distinguished visitor." The team was also instructed to "prepare the context and develop the prep package for each visit." In case the order wasn’t clear enough, Breazile added that the new instructions were to "take priority over all other duties." Instead of fighting the Taliban, Holmes and his team were now responsible for using their training to win the hearts and minds of John McCain and Al Franken.

Photograph by Senior Airman Brian Ybarbo/U.S. Air Force

Sen. John McCain

McCain with Lt. Gen. William Caldwell during a visit to Camp Eggers in Kabul on January 6, 2009.

The list of targeted visitors was long, according to interviews with members of the IO team and internal documents obtained by Rolling Stone. Those singled out in the campaign included senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Jack Reed, Al Franken and Carl Levin; Rep. Steve Israel of the House Appropriations Committee; Adm. Mike Mullen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Czech ambassador to Afghanistan; the German interior minister, and a host of influential think-tank analysts.

Courtesy of NATO

Sen. Joe Lieberman

Lieberman with Lt. Gen. Caldwell during a meeting at the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan in Kabul in July, 2010.

Sen. Lieberman was among the visitors targeted by the unit specializing in psy-ops.

Courtesy of the Office of Senator Carl Levin

Sen. Carl Levin

Levin talks with Lt. Gen. William Caldwell after a briefing in Camp Eggers, Afghanistan, on January 22, 2011.

As for the operation targeting U.S. senators, there is no way to tell what, if any, influence it had on American policy. What is clear is that in January 2011, Caldwell’s command asked the Obama administration for another $2 billion to train an additional 70,000 Afghan troops – an initiative that will already cost U.S. taxpayers more than $11 billion this year. Among the biggest boosters in Washington to give Caldwell the additional money? Sen. Carl Levin, one of the senators whom Holmes had been ordered to target.

Courtesy of Senator Al Franken

Senators Al Franken and Carl Levin

Franken and Levin with Lt. Gen. Caldwell (4th from left) and his team members at the NATO training mission in Kabul, Afghanistan, in January 2010.

Franken, one of the senators targeted in the campaign, issued a statement saying that he did not take the military’s briefings as gospel: “While the briefings provided me with a helpful update on what was happening on the ground, I knew that I would have to cross-check their assessment by talking to other military officials, diplomatic officials, outside experts and troops in the field, and I always raise skeptical questions when discussing this topic.”

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