US's Centcom Counters ISIL Propaganda

While Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve’s air campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant notched more than 26,000 ISIL targets damaged or destroyed as of the end of May, the war against ISIL also proceeds on other fronts.

From its headquarters here, Central Command runs two separate programs in the information war against ISIL. Through the command’s Digital Engagement Team, or DET, and separately through its web operations cell, Centcom’s military, civilian and contract employees work to combat ISIL propaganda in the cyber domain.

Centcom officials spoke to DoD News on background about the counter-ISIL information efforts.

Digital Engagement Team

The 11-member DET includes native-born speakers of Arabic, Urdu, Russian, Farsi, Dari and Pashto. Their job, officials said, is to represent Centcom in those languages and tailor their messaging to regional news cycles: Arabic in Arabic-speaking countries, Dari and Pashto for Afghanistan, Farsi for Iran, Russian for the Central Asian states, and Urdu for Pakistan.

Officials said ISIL’s dominance in the cyber realm has diminished since the group came to prominence in 2014. Now, one official said, “You’re not seeing the YouTube videos of victory parades, of lines of vehicles and black flags anymore.”

Centcom officials said the main “hub” of ISIL’s information campaign remains Twitter, but the group’s reach has been diminished as both Twitter and Facebook “have been pretty aggressive in taking down the accounts that they can recognize or that get reported to them.”

ISIL’s response has been to have supporters create dozens of dormant accounts to fall back on as active accounts are cancelled, a Centcom official said. “The way that they will maintain their audience is either through a hashtag in the description of the account, or the account image will be something like a little brand that people will be able to recognize, and the account will be numbered in such a way that people can sort of figure out -- because it will be sequential in numbers or letters or some way. So people can then very quickly get back to that source.”

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