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Canadians broadcast Voice of Panjwaii radio

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Canadians broadcast Voice of Panjwaii radio
« on: September 29, 2010, 03:20:42 AM »
Quote from: Canadian Press
Canadians broadcast Voice of Panjwaii radio
Fri Sep 24, 4:30 AM
By Dene Moore, The Canadian Press

PANJWAII DISTRICT, Afghanistan - In a room barely bigger than a closet in a remote Canadian military base in the Panjwaii district, a young disc jockey holds a cellphone up to the microphone in front of him.

The caller is reciting poetry, and Panjwaii is listening.

This is the Voice of Panjwaii, one of five very small, local radio stations broadcasting from Canadian military bases throughout Kandahar province as part of NATO's psychological war against the Taliban insurgency.

"Recently we started doing music requests," said Lt. Aaron Lesarge, the soldier who is — for all intents and purposes — the station manager.

"We do have a few people who call in every day to ask for the same songs."

Kandahar province has an estimated 90 per cent illiteracy rate and residents have limited, if any, access to electricity, let alone televisions or the Internet. Locals rely on radio for their information and Kandahar has 15 stations, up from just one or two a few years ago.

Voice of Panjwaii has been on air since June, broadcasting news, government announcements, weather and other programs throughout the district southwest of Kandahar city where Canadians have been concentrating their efforts in Afghanistan.

Local elders and mullahs come to the station to speak, as well as the district governor. There are quiz shows and the station has its own most-requested list of traditional Afghan songs, but by far the most popular program is the call-in show.

Voice of Panjwaii is receiving 40 to 50 phone calls a day from listeners.

About 80 per cent of Panjwaii residents have radios, said Lesarge. Canadian soldiers have handed out an estimated 30,000 units over the past two year in the province.

It's all part of the quiet, psychological war going on to win the hearts and minds of Afghans.

"The biggest battle in a place like this is simply informing people what's going on," said navy Lt. Mark Shepherd of Information Operations for Task Force Kandahar. "There's a big language barrier and there's a big cultural battle here."

Insurgents have often done a better job of informing people than the international and Afghan government forces, using cellphones to report attacks and word of mouth to spread their message.

They even operate their own guerilla radio stations, mostly along the Pakistani border, broadcasting their anti-government, anti-coalition message.

"Are the insurgents, Mullah Omar and his bunch, good at it? Of course they are," says Shepherd. "They're from the area, they speak the local language, they know exactly what the local issues are and can identify them immediately and exploit that."

The Canadian Radio-in-a-Box, as the small district stations are called, is not exclusive. International forces operate what they call "Commando Radio" in Kabul and a nationwide network is expected to start broadcasting next month.

NATO's Regional Command South, which includes Kandahar province, also has plans for a southern Afghanistan network.

Propaganda wars are nothing new. Tokyo Rose was the name GIs gave several Japanese women who broadcast propaganda aimed at demoralizing Allied Forces in the Pacific during World War II.

In Europe, William Joyce, or Lord Haw-Haw, broadcast Nazi threats and misinformation over the airwaves to English-speaking troops from his base in Hamburg.

During the Vietnam era, Hanoi Hannah warned American GIs to get out alive, warnings that were often followed by top rock and roll hits. In turn, the U.S. military dropped leaflets into the Vietnamese countryside to persuade local villagers to support them in the war.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban uses "night letters," delivered to doorsteps in the dark with threats for those they suspect of co-operating with pro-government forces.

The Canadian military now responds with "day letters," to be distributed by Afghan police or soldiers, denouncing the insurgents and suggesting they are cowards who make threats and refuse to stand and fight.

"The night letters are the insurgents' threatening method of posting a letter saying, 'Do this or else.' The day letters concept is for us to help the (Afghan National Security Forces)... to promote the ANSF presence in the area," said Capt. Chris Canavan, of Task Force Kandahar's Psychological Operations team.

However, living among Afghans and meeting with them regularly is still the primary way to win trust, says Shepherd.

"Nothing beats a face-to-face meeting."

Copyright © 2010 Canadian Press
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