The unit was assigned to Afghanistan to “assess the effects of U.S. propaganda on the Taliban.” But they were soon ordered by Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, who’s in charge of training Afghan troops, to use their expertise to influence visiting lawmakers and pressure them into providing more funding for the war effort.
The campaign reportedly targeted VIPs traveling to Afghanistan, including Franken, fellow Sens. John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Jack Levin and Jack Reed as well as members of the House of Representatives, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and foreign dignitaries.
The story says of the psy-ops campaign directed at lawmakers, “there is no way to tell what, if any, influence it had on American policy,” but notes that one of the biggest supporters of increased funding for the war effort was Sen. Carl Levin, one of the campaign’s targets.
The unit’s commander, Lt. Col. Michael Holmes, tried to resist the orders, which he considered illegal under U.S. law. When Holmes raised his concerns, he was reportedly countermanded by higher-ups and disciplined.
A spokesman for Gen. Caldwell told Rolling Stone categorically denied the magazine’s assertions.
The story was written by journalist Michael Hastings, who broke the news last year that members of Afghanistan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s staff were disparaging the Obama Administration’s policies in the region. McChrystal was relieved of his duties and resigned his commission after the story came out.
MPR News has asked Sen. Franken’s office for a reaction to the story but has not yet received a response.
UPDATE: Sen. Franken’s office just provided us with the following statement:
“Along with Senator Carl Levin, I participated in a CODEL and made a visit to Kabul in January 2010, during which time Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, Commander, NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan, and several others briefed me on the progress being made in the country. While the briefings provided me with a helpful update on what was happening on the ground, I knew that I would have to crosscheck 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.
“Although this was my first trip to Afghanistan as a senator, it was my fifth trip to the country since the war started, and I’ve learned that to get a clear sense of what’s happening on the ground you have to talk to everyone from privates to generals. My perspective on the effort in Afghanistan is the product of countless face-to-face meetings with soldiers and marines, Pentagon officials, State Department officials, outside experts and my constituents in Minnesota, as well as extensive review of reports and classified material. I’ll continue to solicit the best advice from the most knowledgeable people as the situation in Afghanistan evolves.”