Ida Dommersnes

PRIO and King’s College, London, Department of War Studies

Ida Dommersnes

Argumentum Ad Captandum versus Unified Effort? An Examination of Strategic Narratives in ISAF

Winning the ‘battle of narratives’ is increasingly seen as a key factor in military operations. As developments in information technology have changed the operational environment, actors are fighting over how the story should be told and interpreted. Parallel to the tactical battlefield, the military is conducting operations in the virtual dimension of global communications and mass media where information assimilation and distribution is democratised, decentralised and made transparent. Against this backdrop, strategists have recognised the importance of tapping into the ‘cognitive domain’ through strategically crafted images and narratives designed to influence perceptions of the operation. While strategic narratives have gained scope and impact in doctrines and influence operations, research into the narrative dimension of contemporary warfare remains limited.

This project investigates the virtual dimension through a study of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The joint civil-military Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) became the central plank of ISAF’s strategy in Afghanistan, despite a lack of clarity over its mandate and purpose. This research seeks to understand why the PRTs became NATO’s ‘leading edge’ in Afghanistan by investigating the importance of PRTs in the virtual dimension in terms of strategic narratives. The project examines the PRTs’ use of virtual strategic narratives in the execution of its strategy and maps narrative coherence or incoherence. It is the aim of the project to explore if or how the PRTs allowed for multiple narratives of the same effort. Given that civil-military agencies like PRTs are likely to emerge in future operations, research into the development and use of this instrument in the virtual dimension proves important.