In early August 1998, the 4th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne) began preparations for possible deployment to support NATO operations Kosovo. PSYOP planners from the 6th Psychological Operations (PSYOP) Battalion (Airborne) were sent to the 32nd Air Operations Group, United States Air Force Europe (USAFE) Headquarters at Ramstein Air Base in Germany to participate in contingency planning.
In February 1999, soldiers of the 4th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne) deployed to establish and form the Joint Psychological Operations Task Force (JPOTF) in support of Joint Task Force NOBLE ANVIL . The 6th PSYOP Battalion (Airborne) formed the core of the JPOTF, and were augmented by personnel from the Group Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC), the 3rd PSYOP Battalion (Airborne) and the 9th PSYOP Battalion (Airborne). The 9th PSYOP Battalion element assisted in the development of products in the Product Development Center (PDC), while the 3rd PSYOP Battalion (Airborne) soldiers provided multimedia communications (print, radio, and television) capabilities to the JPOTF. Additionally, PSYOP specialists from Reserve PSYOP units based in the United States were activated and deployed to support the mission.
Their mission was to get the message of truth to the diverse masses, which included Serb military, police forces in Kosovo, and the civilian population in Belgrade as well as in the small towns and villages throughout the remainder of Serbia, and to Kosovo refugees in Albania and Macedonia. Furthermore it would try to change century old beliefs. No easy task when you add multiple language barriers (Serbian and Croatian) and varied customs and beliefs rooted in a conflict that dated back to the Battle of Kosovo Polje between the Ottoman Turks and Serbia’s Christian Army in 1389.
Nevertheless, the POTF prepared a multimedia campaign consisting of leaflets, handbills, posters, and radio and television broadcasts aimed at countering the distorted reports being fed to the Serbian people by their own government. This effort included informing the Serbian people of the scope and magnitude of Slobodan Milosevic’s campaign of mass murder, systematic rape, forced evacuation and destruction of Kosovo. Additionally, the PSYOP campaign served as a source of information and hope for the Kosovo refugees in Albania and Macedonia.
During the 78-day air campaign, the JPOTF developed over 40 different leaflets. Over 100 million of these leaflets were box dropped by MC-130H Combat Talon aircraft from the 7th Special Operations Squadron over Serbia. 4.5 million more leaflets would be distributed by F-16 and B-52 aircraft via MK-129 leaflet bombs.
EC-130E Command Solo aircraft from the 193rd Special Operations Wing transmitted both radio and television broadcasts, blanketing Belgrade and Northern Yugoslavia, Kosovo, and southern Serbia with “Allied Voice Radio and Television”. The daily radio and television program would generally open with a five minute news segment, followed by a series of features separated by popular musical interludes. The news was repeated on the half hour with the entire broadcast repeated as many times as Commando’s Solo’s flight time would allow, normally two to four times. The Command Solo aircraft of the 193rd SOW continued to fly and broadcast Allied Voice and Television even after the air campaign ended on 9 June, 1999. Their last broadcast was on June, 27, 1999.
How effective were these broadcasts? While on assignment in the Balkans, the government there responded to the Command Solo television and radio broadcasts by dispatching enemy aircraft to shoot them down. Fortunately the planes were scared off by U.S. Fighters accompanying the “Command Solo” EC-130 aircraft.
As for the overall effectiveness of the PSYOP campaign. It is difficult to measure. The campaign was limited by the early decision not to commit ground forces in support of the operation. However, the impact of getting the message of truth did make one thing clear. Psychological Operations will continue to play a vital role in any combat or relief support action and its use as a combat and diplomatic force multiplier must be considered in all future military operations.