Dec 20, 2006

"Self-Assigned Missions"

The expansion of the Pentagon's presence in American embassies is creating frictions and overlapping missions that could undermine efforts to combat Islamic radicalism, a report by Congressional Republicans has found.

As the Pentagon takes on new roles collecting intelligence, initiating information operations and conducting other "self-assigned missions," the report found that some embassies have effectively become command posts, with military personnel in those countries all but supplanting the role of ambassadors in conducting American foreign policy. ...

The report's findings were based on interviews in roughly 20 embassies around the world. While the report found that most of the ambassadors had an adequate grasp of the American military activities in their country, three ambassadors "appeared overwhelmed by the growing presence of military personnel" and said they were ill informed of the operations that the Pentagon was conducting there. "In several cases, embassy staff saw their role as limited to a review of choices already made by 'the military side of the house,' " the report said.

The report did not identify the three ambassadors, nor the ambassador heading "a small embassy in Africa" who told Senate staffers that within a year American military personnel might outnumber civilians at the embassy. ...

One area where the Pentagon has expanded significantly since Sept. 11 is information operations, which are intended to build support for American policies and to marginalize radical factions in Muslim nations.

Since the 2001 attacks, the Pentagon has ratcheted up its information campaigns to fill the vacuum left by the gutting of the State Department's "public diplomacy" budget at the end of the cold war.

The report details the Pentagon's efforts to dispatch small teams of three to four people to American embassies to conduct information operations in local populations. Those Military Information Support Teams are currently working in 18 countries, the report says, with Pentagon plans calling for an increase in deployments to 30 countries.

The presence of the teams occasionally creates friction within embassies, according to the report. In Mali, military officials wanted to feature a moderate Muslim cleric in a video produced by the embassy, yet the embassy's civilian staff argued that showcasing the cleric's support for the United States would only taint him among the local population.

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