recommended reading

Poetry, radio and Web 2.0 tools part of the battle in Afghanistan

Rear Adm. Greg Smith, the strategic communications director for NATO and U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, knows how he can help that nation's government communicate better with its citizens: poetry, FM radio and Web 2.0 technologies.

Smith, a career Navy public affairs officer, said in a phone interview from Kabul with Nextgov on Tuesday that he uses a variety of communications tools to counter insurgents' messages delivered through coercion and intimidation.

For example, insurgents groups including the Taliban buy low-cost, battery-powered radio transmitters, position them near a village to broadcast messages to residents that include threats to kill them of they do not follow their policies and teachings. Smith said he wants to help the Afghan government counter the messages by using more powerful transmitters that can overwhelm stations operated by insurgent groups.

Smith said FM radio stations can deliver the programming that villagers want to hear, including poetry, a key component of the area's Pashtu culture, which dates back 400 years.

Broadcasting poetry to an audience that appreciates verse meets the key requirement of any strategic communications campaign: "Audience-focused communications. You need to meet the audience where they are at," said Bill Salvan, a reserve Navy public affairs officer and president of Signal Bridge Communications, a public relations firm in Phoenix.

Good content will attract a radio audience hungry for news and information, Smith said. The United States plans to work with businesses and international partners to build networks and stations that reach the entire country.

Smith is also trying to provide better protection for towers and switching centers. About 17 million Afghans out of the total population of 22 million own a cell phone. But the Taliban tries to interrupt the free flow of mobile communications by destroying the towers and switching centers in that country, he said.

Internet access in Afghanistan is limited and primarily serves a pool of educated users who can afford the technology. But Smith said cell phones present an opportunity to use Web 2.0 tools to reach younger audiences. Seventy-five percent of the Afghan population is 22 years old and younger.

U.S. Forces Afghanistan set up this year social networking accounts on Twitter and Facebook, which have begun to "gain some traction," though growth will be "in baby steps" because of limits on usage and connectivity in Afghanistan, Smith said.

Smith said he plans to set up a strategic communications fusion center in Kabul in 60 days that will collect and analyze data on what communications tools work and which ones don't in an effort to reach the population. The State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development are also aiding with efforts to communicate with the Afghan population, he added.

Smith characterized the strategic communications campaign as a long-term project, but said the United States also needs to show in the one to two years "that we have started to make a real difference here."

Threatwatch Alert

Thousands of cyber attacks occur each day

See the latest threats


Close [ x ] More from Nextgov

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • It’s Time for the Federal Government to Embrace Wireless and Mobility

    The United States has turned a corner on the adoption of mobile phones, tablets and other smart devices, outpacing traditional desktop and laptop sales by a wide margin. This issue brief discusses the state of wireless and mobility in federal government and outlines why now is the time to embrace these technologies in government.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.