The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan is ordering an investigation into claims that an Army unit trained in psychological operations was improperly told to manipulate American politicians - including Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills) - to get more money and troops for the war.
The staff of Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, head of the effort to train Afghan security forces, ordered the information operations unit to compile profiles, voting records and other information on visiting lawmakers to leverage them in a campaign to get more assistance, said a story Thursday on Rolling Stone's website.
It says the campaign also improperly targeted the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, and others. Caldwell's office denied that the command used the unit to influence distinguished visitors.
"Gen. Petraeus did the right thing by ordering an investigation into this matter. I've been to Iraq and Afghanistan eight times and have always been proud to meet with our troops serving on the front lines," Israel said.
Members of the unit in question believed their mission on arriving in Afghanistan in November 2009 was to assess the effects of U.S. propaganda on the Taliban and local Afghans, Rolling Stone said, quoting Lt. Col. Michael Holmes, who it said was the leader of the five-man team.
Holmes said they resisted the order to compile information on congressional delegations and think of what information "to plant inside their heads." He said they were subjected to retaliation for resisting.
"My job in psy-ops is to play with people's heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave," Holmes is quoted as saying. "When you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressman, you're crossing a line."Israel was in a delegation that visited Afghanistan from Dec. 28 to 30, 2009, according to House records and his office. Joining him were Reps. Brian Higgins (D-Buffalo), Dan Maffei (D-DeWitt), Mike Pence (R-Ind.), Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), Jerry McNerney (D-Cal.) and Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.).
With Tom Brune
and Reid J. Epstein