A paratrooper assigned to the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, conducts security at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Aug 26, 2021.

A paratrooper assigned to the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, conducts security at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Aug 26, 2021. U.S. Army / Master Sgt. Alexander Burnett

US Afghanistan Withdrawal Becomes Ammo For Disinformation Attacks

Adversaries are trying to make Lithuania doubt America’s commitment to its NATO partner.

VILNIUS, Lithuania—The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan has given NATO’s adversaries ammunition for disinformation attacks intended to sow doubt about America’s reliability as a security partner, officials here say.

As Americans and Afghans alike struggled to get to the airport and evacuate amid disorder and violence, hostile actors spread the idea that the United States would abandon Lithuania, a NATO ally, as it left Afghanistan, said Col. Gintaras Koryzna, head of the Lithuanian Armed Forces' Strategic Communications Department. 

Disinformers are also seeking to convince people that Lithuania could not manage its own withdrawal from Afghanistan and left allies behind—when in fact the country withdrew all of its citizens and the Afghans who worked for them and wanted to leave, Koryzna said.

Defense One was briefed by Koryzna on a trip to Lithuania that was organized and funded by the Atlantic Council. 

Lithuania is a long-time target of Russian disinformation. In 2019, Russian operatives sought to discredit NATO by starting a rumor that the United States intended to move nuclear weapons from Turkey to Lithuania. The month before that, Russians posted a false claim that German troops had defaced Jewish gravestones with swastikas in Kaunas while serving on a NATO mission.

To combat these types of attacks, Lithuania established its Strategic Communications Department 10 years ago to assess the information environment, coordinate cooperation among the military, and help citizens develop critical thinking to better recognize and fight disinformation. 

Lithuania has also asked NATO for more help. Officials asked the alliance to send a “counter hybrid support team” to counter Russian disinformation operations, Polish Ambassador to NATO Tomasz Szatkowski said.

"It's a new concept [that] encompasses a number of experts stemming from cyber, information operations, internal security. This is one of the ways the alliance can respond right now," Szatkowski said.

Last year, the Lithuanian department tracked 3,412 disinformation incidents intended to shape society’s perception, including seven distinct sophisticated hostile information operations against the American military, NATO, and the Lithuanian government. Koryzna said Russian propagandists and their proxies have repeatedly attempted to discredit the leadership of Lithuania, the European Union, NATO and the United States among the Lithuanian public.

In July and August alone, he said, the department tracked 485 and 433 incidents respectively. The top themes were the migrant crisis on the border between Lithuania and Belarus, relationships between those two neighboring countries, and the relationship between Lithuania and China after Beijing recently removed its ambassador in Vilnius over Lithuania’s support of Taiwan. 

Other common themes in past disinformation attacks that were tracked by the department include the ideas that NATO provokes Russia and Belarus and that the Lithuanian military is not prepared to defend the country. 

Patrick Tucker contributed to this report.