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.

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

The Security Assistance Group, now the 77th Brigade Part 1

Well everybody across the 30th January-1st February 2015 weekend was (on social and normal media) talking about #twittertroops or the 77/77th Brigade, supposedly a “new unit”. So many have been wondering why should the “Chindits” unit be revived, why create a unit under Army 2020 (which was formed in 2013). Why use twitter/social media?

The fact is it is NOT A UNIT ABOUT Psychological Warfare, depsite what idiots on Wikipedia say it is. this is just a re-branding/re-naming of the Security Assistance Group (SAG), which was formed on 1 September 2014 and located under the new Force Troops Command. Below are a series of links related to the SAG/77th Brigade and its sub-units. Anyway, let’s take a look at the 77 Brigade units and I hope to argue its critical importance in UK defence  and security policy here, unlike what Tango Delta and its readers assert.

The 77th Brigade, former the SAG, officially consists of:

Headquarters Element
The Media Operations Group (MOG)
The Security Capacity Building Team (SCBT)
15 Psychological Operations Group (15 POG)
Military Stabilisation Support Group (MSSG)

Page 4 of the 2012 Army 2020 brochure shows that the SAG then was (and quite correctly) is a “regiment”-sized unit (it is shown with the III NATO symbol).
According to page 8 of this newsletter, it is commanded by a  1 * (Brigadier), with a headquarters (HQ) “41 military personnel (16 Officers, 16 SNCO, and 9 ORs).” The MSSG will have 60 military personnel (20 Officers, 40 ORs). A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by yours truly (yes me!) revealed closer details about each of the sub-units. As of October 2014, there are only 50 personnel in the HQ element (which means it is still understaffed), 50 in the 15 POG, 50 in the MOG, 10 in the SCBT, and 120. The FOIA replied stated these numbers will increase as the sub-units and the entire unit forms up.

The first and probably biggest question is: What is the 77th Brigade/SAG for? The Force Troops Command FTC) website states that:

Building on the recent cross-Whitehall International Defence Engagement and Building Stability Overseas Strategies, the Security Assistance Group (SAG) will have close links with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development and the Stabilisation Unit.

General Role of the 77th Brigade/SAG

The Building Stability Overseas Strategy (BSOS) refers to this 2011 policy paper produced by the Ministry of Defence (MOD), the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Department for International Development (DFID). Basically BSOS is a general outline on how the UK will deal with conflict states/failed states or war zones. It is quite obvious that the FCO and DFID would be involved in preventing or solving any conflict state. The MOD, much to the displeasure of warfighting troops, has to be involvement in conflict destabilisation/stabilisation. Conflicts or growing conflicts such as Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Iraq War I and II (yes both Gulf Wars), Afghanistan and even the Israel-Palestinian Conflict have included non-conventional actors. Battles or objectives are no longer just about militaries or armed forces verses each other. Battles are not not won by just hard aggressive force but also through information deception or the loose term of “psychological warfare”. In proper academic circles, it is the usage of “soft power”.

After all, page 27 FTC media release (another possibly fake document) mentioned the term soft power in relation to the then SAG. “[It] will deliver the application of Soft Power at the strategic and operational levels and soft effects at the tactical level…[the] SAG will provide Force elements to Reaction and Adaptable forces, and be the principal Defence partner for the Stabilisation Unit at the tactical level, contributing to the Coalition, Joint, inter-agency, inter-governmental and Multinational Approach.” In this manner the SAG is your MOD/Army tool to help secure, stabilise and rebuild societies, regions and even countries (if you want to use the layman’s terminology). This FTC release also stated at the intelligence-centred Land Intelligence Fusion Centre will be linked to it via a small section, possibly through the HQ element.

If the above paragraph still doesn’t sufficient describe the 77th Brigade, now the SAG, you should read pages 119, 121-122 of the 2014 British Army Journal gives probably the most detailed information on the SAG (then). Page 119 says the unit will be be focal point for levers of soft power (see the term again!) or persistent “engagement”. Pages 121-122 is a article by the CO of the SAG, then Colonel Alastair Aitken (now Brigadier). Aitken stresses how the boundaries between regular, irregular, political, economic and social activities have been blurred. As in the paragraph above, Aitken indicates the Army needs to address the blurred lines in order to gain the upper hand. A unit, and thus the SAG, is needed to deter pre-conflict events and post-conflict actions for the long term. Aitken also notes that the SAG will not operate with just its sub-units but with FTC’s 1st Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Brigade (1 ISR Brigade), especially 21 and 23 SAS Regiments, the new Human, Environment, Reconnaissance and Analysis (HERA) patrols.

These paragraphs thus show that the SAG and now the 77th Brigade is not a unit for psychological warfare, no matter what some on wikipedia or the mainstream or social media claim it to be. Yes, as shown above and below, several of the units are dedicated to psychological warfare, but this is not their only goal nor is it the primary mission of 77th Brigade. The unit is to aid in the mission of stabilisation. To further substantiate this point, the next section delves into the roles and part of the histories of 77th Brigade’s sub-units.

Update 1: A parliamentary written question by MP Jim Shannon finally revealed the role of the 77th Brigade. Minister Mark Francois stated that:

“77th Brigade is the new name for the Security Assistance Group. Its continuing role includes:
Providing support, in conjunction with other Government agencies, to efforts to build stability overseas and to wider defence diplomacy and overseas engagement;
Leading on Special Influence Methods, including providing information on activities, key leader engagement, operations security and media engagement;
Military capacity-building at various stages in the cycle of conflict, through mentoring, support and training, including providing training support to Force Elements to enable delivery of security assistance tasks.
There will be 440 military posts in 77th Brigade.”

Quite simply then, the Brigade is the renaming of the SAG and continues its stated objectives. IT IS NOT A UNIT FOR FACEBOOK WARRIORS OR JUST PSYCHOLOGICAL OPERATIONS.

Update 2: MP Kevan Jones asked about the number of reserves in the 77th Brigade. Answer by Julian Brazier:

“As the reorganisation of this formation is taking place, we do not yet have any figures for recruitment but at 1 January 2015, there were 160 members of the Army Reserve (Group A) in the Units that make up the 77th Brigade.
We intend to expand the number of Reservists to 235, some 53% of the total.”

End of Part 1