US fights Taliban on another front: public relations
As Afghan insurgents exploit popular anger at civilian deaths, the US is hitting back with its own message.
(Page 2 of 3)
Eight years after the fundamentalist movement enforced a ban on television, the Taliban has developed a fast, coordinated media apparatus that has eroded public support for nationbuilding, according to a July report by the International Crisis Group, even though active support for the insurgents remains low.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"This does not mean the people believe everything [Taliban operatives] say. But given the weakness of the government and missteps of the international community, it feeds into a climate of suspicion and potential alienation," says the author of the report, Joanna Nathan.
Their tools span the spectrum, from radio transmissions and a multilingual website, known as "The Emirate," which is updated almost daily with battle reports and press releases, to more traditional means of communication such as audio cassettes and "night letters" passed out by hand. And they have succeeded by filling a narrative void left by the Afghan government and coalition forces, who say they are slowed by hostile terrain and an obligation to find the truth.
US targets 'strategic communications'
In March, US special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke told journalists that "strategic communications" have become a "major, major gap to be filled" if US-led forces are to reverse losses. This urgency figured in the Obama adminstration's new Afghan strategy revealed in March, which called for a major upgrade "to improve the image of the United States and its allies" and "to counter the propaganda that is key to the enemy's terror campaign."
One component of this strategy, according to British defense analyst Tim Foxley, is "to challenge the Taliban to explain their actions and intent," while promoting a grassroots discussion of "the Taliban's legitimacy, their interpretation of Islam, what constitutes a jihad, and the morality of killing civilians."
On Wednesday, coalition forces issued a press release condemning a wave of Taliban suicide attacks in the city of Khost that killed 13 civilians and injured 36.
"These attacks again demonstrate the insurgents' complete disregard for the people of Afghanistan whom they claim to represent. These senseless acts reflect how dishonorable the insurgents are; no one can honestly say they are fighting for the people then purposefully attack innocents," said Brig. Gen. Richard Blanchette, the ISAF spokesman.
Handing out radios
The military's improved responsiveness appears to be part of a host of changes now in motion to try and beat the Taliban at their own game.