The Security Assistance Group, now the 77th Brigade Part 3

This third part of the series goes into simple question-and-answer mode regarding the 77th Brigade/SAG. I could write it in proper prose/essay style, but that would take a longer time and I have other committments.

1) Is the 77th Brigade a unit for Psyops? Will it really be a “Twitter Troops” unit, ie. “attacking” adversaries via social media?

A: A big No and Yes. As explained in the earlier 2 articles, the SAG, now re-titled as the 77th Brigade, was formed under the Army 2020 concept to match the UK government’s Building Stability Overseas Strategy (BSOS). In simpler terms, it is a formation dedicated towards conflict prevention and (state/regional) stabilisation. Yes, 15 POG, one of its sub-units, and the MOG and the MSSG (to a lesser degree) are (or have been involved) in PSYOPS. Their grouping together DOES NOT mean that is is going to be one big PSYOPS family. Rather, in the course of stabilising areas or preventing large-scale conflict, psychological means might be a good or plausible means to reach objectives. Now, I am a critic of the BSOS concept. But that is a debate for a separate article. What the 77th Brigade’s mission will be is to help to tackle the non-conventional threats of the present and the future (as its units have done in Iraq and Afghanistan). Regarding social media, it is again undoubtedly a domain which the British Army (any other armed forces) will have to address. That does not mean “normal” media channels will be ignored. But yes, in the course of conflict prevention and stabilisation, “attacking” or influencing others via social or normal media can be a means to and end.

2) Even if the 77th Brigade is not a PSYOPS-only unit, is is a form of “Big Brother”?

A: Spare me the extremist anti-monitoring, anti-government control talk. The simple answer is no.

3) Why form the SAG or the 77th Brigade and have a Brigade-sized unit or a Brigadier, in the light of cuts to the armed forces?

A: As noted, several of the sub-units of the SAG/77th Brigade were from pre-Army 2020 units. The MSSG was broadly under the Royal Engineers; the 15 POG was under the 1 or 1st Military Intelligence Brigade. During the course of the Afghanistan campaign (and other simultaneous British Armed Forces operations), these units appeared to be addressing the same problem–non-conventional threats or (post)-conflict work. With the BSOS idea and the existing FCO-DFID-MOD partnership (especially through the Conflict Pool or in the future, the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund), a new unit dedicated towards BSOS objectives would further enhance the MOD’s work in stability and security. Placing it under the land forces/Army is/was a no-brainier, but drawing a talent pool from all three services would be practical.

4) But, this is the British Army which fight wars. Which other armed forces has created such a unit focused on this task?

A: Conflict prevention has been a historical issue, although no army or armed forces or country has solved it effectively. The end of World War II, the Vietnam War, Cold War conflicts, post-Cold War conflicts all drew out the issue of conflict prevention or pre-conflict prevention. The US Army, during or post-Vietnam War, has created several units dedicated towards the topic of conflict/post-conflict work. These are termed as (pretty cutely) “civil affairs units”. Such units reside under the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), not as a separate-brigade sized unit. You can view the Facebook pages of some units such as the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion – Airborne or the 8th Military Information Support Group – Airborne. There’s a U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command (Airborne), the (higher) command which teaches civil affairs units how to conduct their missions. Within the US Army’s Brigade Combat Team structure, there are teams dedicated to civil affairs (see US Army FM 390.6). Civil Affairs may not be as dedicated towards conflict prevention and stabilisation, so perhaps the 77th Brigade has the upper hand (the US armed forces has never been a great agency for development work).

5) If the 77th Brigade is not a PSYOPS unit, why was it said to be so?

A: Blame the media (the social and normal media) for casting in in an inaccurate perspective. Ok, blame the British Army and the Ministry of Defence for not releasing a full and proper media release on their websites (which aren’t very updated). Only if you read back through the articles I posted in the earlier 2 posts can you draw the connection between the SAG and the 77th Brigade.

This will probably not be the last article on the SAG/77th Brigade, but I hope I corrected all misconceptions. Note: As stated on twitter, facebook and here, I am not affiliated with the British Armed Forces, or the UK’s Ministry of Defence.

Thanks.

Update: The Brigade (@77th_Brigade) has blocked me (@ForcesReviewUK) for NO CLEAR REASON. May it never achieve it goals.

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The Security Assistance Group, now the 77th Brigade Part 2

Part 2

77th Brigade/SAG sub-units

The MOG

Three out of four of these units are well known as there were quite active in Operation Herrick in Afghanistan. The MOG for example, was there to present the Army’s and the armed forces role to the Afghans and the wider UK and international community. The MOG sends out teams to HQ or battlegroup teams to report the new or teach personnel how to deal with the media. (See also this explanation for media operations) The MOG has obviously being displayed through the British Army’s own blog, especially through a certain Captain Lisa Irwin. There’s also Captain Lorna Ward, who’s full time job is a producer at Sky News but also a MOG team member in Iraq (see Broadcast, 2008 “A window into Iraq” Broadcast, 11 January 2008). Its teams are most probably the Combat Camera Teams (CCTs) as seen by a news article on Major Paul Smyth (PR Week, 2010, “Major Paul Smyth – Facing two lines of fire”, PR Week, p.16, 5 March 2010). There was also this news release detailing then 4th Mechanized Brigade’s deployment to Afghanistan (UK Government News, 2012, Communicating 4th Mech’s upcoming Afghanistan Tour, UK Government News, 3 September 2012).The MOG itself has a <a href=”https://twitter.com/MediaOps_Group”>twitter account, though that hasn’t been updated since 2013 (not exactly the twitter warriors you want eh?).

While all this may have painted a rosy-red picture of the MOG, some other reports do not. A certain TA now Army Reserve (AR) Captain Christian Hill in one CCT apparently saw the CCT/MOG as twisting the truth about the Army’s/Armed Forces role in Afghanistan. Hill resigned his position/commission in (Leicester Mercury, 2014, “‘I’m no Goebbels. There was never an occasion when I thought I was peddling military propaganda'”, Leicester Mercury, 25 April 2014; Gallagher, P., 2014, “Second officer resigns to tell truth about war; ARMY”, i-Independent Print Ltd, 12 April 2014). There’s also this Guardian news article about Hill. Another less serious resignation was that of the MOG’s CO in 2014. Lieutenant Colonel Vickie Sherieff was appointed as CO sometime in 2013, as stated by her predecessor. The Telegraph article said her elevation would be a poster girl (not boy) for the drive to get more people to get more people to join the AR. Sherieff’s resignation was due to her promotion in a new job scope. Anyway, it is undoubtedly the case that the MOG would skew the image of the British Army/Armed Forces. But let’s skip down to a more well-known unit.

The MSSG

The MSSG is probably more famous than the MOG and one of the few famous non-combat British Army units across the last decade. According to page 1685 of this book, the MSSG was established in 2009 to help reconstruction/stabilisation of Afghanistan. This unit was formerly known as the the Joint Civil Military Cooperation Group and has long been under the control of the Royal Engineers. The MSSG’s website gives a clear indication of the unit’s mission and it is NOT PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE! Rather, it is a “unique defence organisation that provides the UK with an array of skills and knowledge, that can be used to provide military support to the civilian efforts to stabilise countries around the world that are either emerging from conflict or are at risk of sliding into chaos.” It is therefore clear this sub-unit is not primarily aimed to counter regions and states conflicts and post-conflicts.

This can be further elaborated through various news articles detailing the MSSG’s activities:

1)One of the earliest I can find is MSSG personnel training Ugandan soldiers in disaster management (Africa News, 2009, “Uganda; British Soldiers Train Locals, Africa News, 24 August 2009).

2) A second article, this time by the MOD, details the success of the unit in Afghanistan. The article mentions influencing the Afghan population, but not directly through psychological warfare. Instead it emphasises the terms “CIMIC (Civil Military Co-operation)” and “stabilisation” pop up, indicating the unit’s actions (States News Service, 2010, “Stabilisation in Afghanistan: Winning the population from the insurgent, States News Service, 4 August 2010).

3) Further articles again highlight the MSSG’s role again in training others for disasters (Bagnall, S., 2010, “I’m helping Africans prepare to face disaster; TA OFFICER ORGANISES EMERGENCY RESPONSE”, Daily Post (North Wales), 17 November 2010, p.17; Kernan, L., 2010, “Sergeant’s live-saving African trip”, Aberdeen Evening Express, 18 November 2010, p.16; States News Service, 2011, “MOD Staff help Ugandans prepare for disaster relief, States News Service, 10 January 2011; Sutton Observer,2011, “Officer’s key role in project to help flood disaster plans”, Sutton Observer, 2 December 2011).

4) MSSG Stabilisation exercises (The Times (London), 2012, “Stabilisation exercise in Botswana; Military matters News in brief”, The Times (London), 7 January 2012; see also this MOD release and this blog entry (which also contains references to the MOG). Most prominently, an MSSG team was sent out to Jakarta for a disaster management exercise in 2014. You can read the four blog entries for yourself: part 1, <a< span=””> href=”https://britisharmy.wordpress.com/2014/06/23/jakarta-an-exercise-in-disaster-management-pt2/”>part 2, part 3, <a href=”https://britisharmy.wordpress.com/2014/07/10/jakarta-an-exercise-in-disaster-management-pt4/”>part 4, also see <a href=”https://www.</a<></afacebook.com/BritishEmbassyJakarta/posts/865543133459243″>this facebook entry. This exercise once again highlights the group’s role of role of disaster prevention and ultimately country stabilisation or BOSOS.

5) The rest of the news articles I could find were personnel with the MSSG awarded for their duties (see for example MSSG awarded for humanitarian work in Afghanistan; Free Press Series, 2011, “Chepstow colonel delighted at New Year’s honour”, Free Press Series, 5 January 2011; West Briton, 2012, “Exemplary soldier ‘Pez’ is killed on his final tour”; West Briton, 12 July 2012, p.4; Navy officer recognised for Engineering role.

6) Finally, an article relating to a contract (News Bites – Private Companies, 2014, “UK MOD Awards Safety Contract to BMT 03 June 2014”, News Bites – Private Companies, 4 June 2014.

As the various news reports show, the MSSG is certainly not a unit to spread psychological change but to implement the UK’s interpretation of stability. Of course, stability can mean spreading of British values (which the Army has been in tool in all of the UK’s conflicts) but it can also mean instilling certain international norms as part of the intervention process. This certainly isn’t direct psychological warfare. What else…oh as the MSSG’s website and above news reports state that its is a tri-service unit. It is also a hybrid unit–one that combines both regular and reserve personnel. This Financial Times (you may have to subscribe to read) article shows a high-flying management consultant as a reservist in the MSSG. The unit itself was also a recipient of the SUN newspaper military awards. In summary, the MSSG is a unit that works closely with UK departments to ensure stability and peace in foreign countries, perhaps promoting British interests and values, or international standards. It is certainly far away from the area of Psyops.

15 POG

Now, the next unit in the 77th Brigade/SAG evidently/obviously is focused on Psychological Warfare. 15 POG came into being in 1998. It gained “Initial Operating Capability with new multi-media equipment supplied through MOD DEC ISTAR Project DRUMGRANGE during 2007” further cementing role a a PSYOPS unit. (See this link

OK what is really known about this unit? There used to be primary webpages for 15POG: One on the British Army’s website and on the Royal Navy’s website (UK Armed Forces are notorious in not moving web links when they update their webpages or even produce accurate orbats.) These pages not only introduce the unit–its emblem and its naming–but also give a historical background to British Psyops. 15 POG was previously under the 1 or 1st Military Intelligence Brigade, page 107. As with the MSSG, it is also a hybrid and tri-coloured unit, drawing reservists from the Royal Navy and RAF Regiment (see also Derby Evening Telegraph, 2013, “‘I’m so proud of my reservist husband over his Afghan role’ “, Derby Evening Telegraph, 14 September 2013). There is even a LinkedIn page set up by some one for forme members to join. Members of the unit include (former) Royal Navy Commander Steve Tatham, Stephen Jolly, former Director of Defence Communications at the MOD and Colonel Colin Mason. Another British Army Corporal, Sarah Bryant was a member of 15 POG but tragically killed in Afghanistan (Johnson, A., 2008, “‘She died doing the job she loved. She was a truly special person who died a hero’ “, The Independent on Sunday, 22 June 2008).

If those archived webpages and the psywar.org link doesn’t explain 15 POG’s mission,this BBC article by ex-Defence correspondent Caroline Wyatt gives a succinct report on the unit’s operations in Afghanistan. 15 POG wasawarded the Firmin Sword of Peace in recognition of their work in Afghanistan. It has uses all form of traditional media–music, radio, print, and now internet–to influence both military and civilian adversaries. With the 77th Brigade’s announcement, 15 POG (possibly joint or along with the MOG), will use social media to “attack” or influence its enemies. Undoubtedly, it’s future mission will be that of PSYOPS but PSYOPS can be a means to stabilise and develop conflict/fragile states.

The SCBT

The SCBT is probably the newest member of the SAG/77th Brigade–I can’t find any information on it (Or am I incorrect?) At the very most, I can find two LinkedIn profiles–here and here of serving person working in the SCBT. Judging by its name, the SCBT is not a PSYOPS unit and probably is, like the MSSG, concerned with stabilisation or conflict prevention. One wonders whether it compliments or duplicates the role of the MSSG. I do hope the MOD/British Army releases more information on the SCBT.

Well, that’s an overview and partly a review of the sub-units of the Security Assistance Group, or now the 77th Brigade. It is quite clear that only one of them is primarily dedicated towards Psychological Warfare and that they have the mission of stabilisation and upstream prevention in mind. More of this will be discussed in part 3.

To Be Continued.

SCBT https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=300758373&authType=name&authToken=wDpa&trk=prof-sb-browse_map-name

SAG https://www.linkedin.com/pub/paul-corden/23/954/397

https://www.linkedin.com/pub/paul-corden/23/954/397

USSOCOM similar units

https://www.facebook.com/8MISG

https://www.facebook.com/pages/96th-Civil-Affairs-Battalion-Airborne/213977188784316?ref=stream