Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, will order an investigation into Rolling Stone's report that a U.S. Army unit specializing in psychological operations was ordered to manipulate American senators visiting Afghanistan into providing troops and funding for the war.
The announcement was made in a brief statement from Kabul, Afghanistan, which said only that the probe would "determine the facts and circumstances surrounding the issue."
"It would be inappropriate to comment any further at this time," the statement said.
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Rolling Stone reported that psy-ops, intended to target "hostile foreign groups," are banned by federal law for use on on Americans. When Lt. Col. Michael Holmes, the leader of the information operations unit, tried to deflect the Army order given by Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, a three-star general in charge of training Afghan troops, he then found himself the target of a military investigation to investigate his behavior, which allegedly included alcohol use and having an "inappropriate" relationship with a subordinate.
A spokesman for Caldwell declined comment on the report.
The magazine reported that Holmes said the operations were initially intended to include "seemingly innocuous" work, such as compiling detailed profiles of special visitors to Afghanistan, profiles that included voting records and their personal preferences.
Caldwell's chief of staff is reported to have asked Holmes how the military could secretly manipulate the lawmakers without their knowledge. In an e-mail, Caldwell's staff commissioned Holmes's team for information to shape the general's presentations to the visitors and to "refine our messaging." Holmes said that the team was supposed to provide a "deeper analysis of pressure points we could use to leverage the delegation for more funds."
Among those singled out in the campaign: Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., Jack Reed, D-R.I., Al Franken, D-Minn., and Carl Levin, D-Mich.
"I didn't feel anything unusual going on," Reed, a member of the Armed Services committee, said on MSNBC Thursday.
Levin noted he had always supported the war effort in Afghanistan and said he was confident the military investigation would get to the truth.
Pentagon spokesman Dave Lapan said he could not give an outright denial of what was in the report.
The investigation is "not focused on any particular person other than determining the facts and circumstances that were raised in the story," he said.
When asked if it was inappropriate for an information officer to do the types of tasks specified in the article, Lapan said it depends on the circumstances of "what's being done and how (the information) is being used."
The investigation is going to look into "what actions took place and what, if any of them, were illegal...inappropriate," the spokesman said.
Lapan said that the investigators have not been determined yet.
Rolling Stone won the George Polk Award for Magazine Reporting on Tuesday because of reporter Michael Hastings's last piece, a controversial profile last year of Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then-commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. McChrystal was fired by President Obama shortly thereafter.