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US Air Force Broadcast Unit Deployed

Members of the only Air Force unit operating what are essentially flying broadcast stations have been deployed in a move apparently linked to the buildup of U.S. forces around Afghanistan.

A senior Pentagon official recently told VOA an overriding concern of military planners is how to communicate to the Afghan people that any U.S. anti-terrorist operations inside Afghanistan will not be aimed at them.

The official provided no details of how the Pentagon intends to get out the message that only terrorists and their supporters will be targeted.

But VOA has now confirmed that members of the Air National Guard's 193rd Special Operations Wing have been deployed to an undisclosed location, possibly in Central Asia.

A spokesman for the Pennsylvania-based reserve unit will not say how many personnel or aircraft are involved in the deployment, nor will the spokesman say precisely where they have gone.

The unit is important, however, because it operates the only U.S. airborne assets capable of broadcasting missions.

The aircraft, EC-130E's, are code-named "Commando Solo" planes. They are equipped with radio and television transmitters that cover all the main bands and are also capable of broadcasting in various formats.

A recent Pentagon study called the use of such aircraft a critical element of tactical psychological operations - that is, operations aimed at swaying public opinion at a time of military conflict.

The report notes "Commando Solo" aircraft have previously been used in psychological operations missions in Haiti, Panama, Grenada, Iraq, and Kosovo.

Officials say that in Iraq, for example, the aircraft broadcast messages detailing procedures for Iraqi soldiers to surrender to advancing U.S. led coalition forces during the Gulf War.

The military has other capabilities for these types of operations including air drops of leaflets or even loudspeaker broadcasts. However Pentagon officials refuse to discuss which if any such measures are planned or under consideration in connection with the current U.S. anti-terrorist mission.