- The Washington Times - Friday, May 31, 2002

RAWANDAY, Afghanistan The U.S. Army has begun psychological warfare operations across Afghanistan's troubled Pathan tribal belt to try to counter the Taliban's renewed anti-British and anti-U.S. propaganda campaign.

The soldiers at the vanguard of the new operation motto "Win the mind, win the day!" are looking for signs that Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters have made recent visits to remote villages. The troops then try to sway the villagers to support the U.S.-led military mission.

Sgt. Mike Dickinson leads a typical team of three psychological warfare specialists. He is a recent convert to Islam and, in the field, he wears a black-striped turban similar to the ones favored by the Taliban.

He and team mates Israel Miller and David Stone move stealthily from village to village talking with elders, playing with children and keeping an eye out for the enemy as they rove in the Afghan heartland.

Sgt. Dickinson and his team known as 913 have already endeared themselves to many Afghans in the Kandahar area by working hard to make U.S. troops respect Islamic customs and, on one occasion, trying but failing to save the life of an Afghan man blasted by a stray U.S. cluster bomblet. The man died in Sgt. Dickinson's arms.

"Some of my buddies would not want to hear me say this, but I hope we are here indefinitely," he said. "I love these people."

Sgt. Dickinson, who comes from Battle Creek, Mich., converted to Islam two years ago while on a U.S. peacekeeping mission in Kosovo.

He keeps a photograph of Jordan's Queen Rania stuck to the butt of his rifle and says that if the United States ever went to war against the Palestinians, he would have to become a "conscientious objector".

When the U.S. forces arrived in Rawanday village Wednesday after getting stuck in the sand on three occasions, Ghulam Faroq, a gap-toothed village elder greeted Sgt. Dickinson and other U.S. troops with open arms. Villagers had prepared a meal of dried bread crust and yogurt. The psy-ops team had brought blankets, school supplies and toys for children mostly donated by American families.

Sgt. Dickinson told the elders, "I'm just glad to be here and have the chance to bring you a little something to thank you for the kindness you have been showing to the U.S. and coalition forces."

Sgt. Dickinson's 913 colleagues worry that he is "going native." He insists that he wants to find an Afghan wife before he leaves Afghanistan. He said he does not mind if she is covered in a head-to-toe blue burka, just as long as he can talk to her before they marry.

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