Information pertaining to Peshmerga are widely circulated on social networking sites. Consequently, those who distribute information pose a grave danger for Kurdistan’s national security.
People have a right within democratic societies to know what dangers they are faced with, and to understand how the national army operates. It is not justifiable that information pertaining to military’s capacity and shortcomings are kept as a secret, away from public knowledge. It is the responsibility of the military to ensure the country is safe.
There are ongoing debates between media specialists about the Kurdish media’s unfiltered access to the battlefield and operations on the ground in Kurdistan Region. Our aim is to highlight how the publication of Peshmerga activities through social media channels jeopardise the battlefield operations in favour of terrorist groups.
In 1993 President Bill Clinton decided to withdraw US troops from Mogadishu after CNN televised the dead body of US servicemen, dragged on the streets. The media coverage of war connects people with soldiers on ground and creates a sense of unity between them. Media affects the decision making process far more quickly than bureaucratic channels of military commands.
However, televising military operations, particularly when it does not go through military analysis reveals classified information and plans. This was particularly the case in the recent war between Kurdistan region’s Peshmerga forces and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Media agencies can provide accurate analysis based on statements issued from military sources, without information that reveal Kurdish military strategies being publicised. Here are some instances of media coverage of Peshmerga operations that caused casualties:
The failed operation of #Jalawla
There are nearly 150,000 undisciplined Peshmerga, who do not report to the Ministry of Peshmerga officially. Instead, they report to their military commander within the political parties. This creates multiple unofficial sources of information that are accessible to media outlets about the military operations — plans and even number of casualties. These commanders, and soldiers are releasing information that is classified, pictures, and giving information to journalists about their strategies.
Such information was circulating on social networking sites, which revealed the weakness of Kurdish troops, and lead to the failed operations that set Kurdish troops back. For instance, Xendan is a popular news agency within Kurdistan Region, and publishes in Kurdish language. On July 24th, they published classified information about Kurdish troops planning a decisive operation in Jalawla against ISIS militants. Soon following this, ISIS retreated from Jalawla, and soon after their withdrawal they conducted a counter-attack against Peshmerga forces. As a result, ISIS re-gained territories it had lost which were under the control of Peshmerga forces.
The Shingal crisis
News coverage of the Shingal (Sinjar) crisis placed civilians in grave danger. A local radio announced that Peshmerga forces controlled some neighbourhood in the area, which motivated some locals to return to the city to collect food, and basic necessities. As a result of this, they were arrested.
The U.S. military aid to Peshmerga
Local news agencies revealed information relating to Kurdistan’s nationality security and military intelligence. They revealed the type of weapons and information pertaining to the aid received. Moreover, the cooperation and arrival of Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) fighters was also publicised.
On one occasion Rudaw News Agency reported, alongside other outlets such as Xenden that the situation of Yezidi was worsening. They also mentioned that aid was going to be delivered via helicopters in the area. Consequently Kurdistan Regional Government’s attempts of providing aid was made difficult. ISIS militants intensified their presence in the area, upon hearing of these reports.
ISIS media strategy
The ISIS have conducted a neatly organised media strategy to demoralise opponents and demolish the morale of its rivals. Their operations are confidential and classified to the extent that they are the first to announce the completion of an operation on their social networking sites. ISIS release footages and press release after seizing control of cities and villages completely.
The press releases by military commanders should go through intelligence analysis before the public become aware of it. During warfare military officials establish various operations bases for press conferences where they release information. This is not to impinge upon journalistic freedom of expression but to ensure the national safety of Kurdistani citizens.
Recommendations on how to ensure Kurdish military commanders, soldiers and those within Peshmerga units do not reveal classified information has been sent to the Ministry of Peshmerga.