Afghanistan — ISAF Discusses Insurgent Propaganda Messaging

KABUL, Afghanistan — A senior ISAF intel­li­gence offi­cial con­duct­ed a press con­fer­ence here today to dis­cuss pro­pa­gan­da and con­tra­dic­to­ry mes­sag­ing employed by Tal­iban lead­er­ship.

“The Tal­iban attempt to manip­u­late the media in order to mis­rep­re­sent the truth and deny the Afghan peo­ple their basic right to free and inde­pen­dent media,” the offi­cial said. 

Accord­ing to the offi­cial, the Tal­iban use a for­mal­ized pro­pa­gan­da net­work over­seen my Mul­lah Omar and exe­cut­ed by media spokes­men, includ­ing Yousaf Ahma­di and Zabi­ul­lah Mujahid. 

“The spokes­men work direct­ly with the Tal­iban media com­mis­sion and exter­nal malign media sup­port, which is large­ly com­prised of sym­pa­thet­ic media out­lets,” the offi­cial said. “The spokes­men also work close­ly with the oper­a­tional com­man­ders and pro­pa­gan­da offi­cials, who are direct­ly involved in Tal­iban com­mu­ni­ca­tions, infor­ma­tion oper­a­tions and dis­rup­tion activ­i­ties. This process is fed by shad­ow gov­er­nors and oper­a­tional lev­el commanders.” 

The offi­cial also high­light­ed Tal­iban meth­ods of pro­pa­gan­da distribution. 

“They com­mu­ni­cate their mes­sage through the use of VHF radios, tra­di­tion­al com­mu­ni­ca­tions, pri­mar­i­ly through sym­pa­thet­ic cler­ics and night let­ters, and phones; to include text mes­sages to ANA and ANP per­son­nel,” the offi­cial said. 

“Their mes­sages include threat­en­ing to shut­down phone com­mu­ni­ca­tions, in many cas­es, actu­al­ly doing so, intim­i­dat­ing the pop­u­la­tion and influ­enc­ing the pop­u­la­tion through false and mis­lead­ing propaganda.” 

The offi­cial also pre­sent­ed exam­ples of real night let­ters to high­light Tal­iban hypocrisy and rein­force their use of threat and intim­i­da­tion to coerce sup­port for the population. 

“This night let­ter from Mul­lah Omar tar­gets those who sup­port the legit­i­mate Afghan gov­ern­ment, threat­en­ing to kill those who do not com­ply with their warn­ing, as well as destroy their homes – QUOTE: ‘we will not leave you alone’ UNQUOTE –, fol­lowed by the claim their mes­sage was sent ‘with peace’,” the offi­cial said. ‘The sec­ond night let­ter in from Haqqani net­work leader Sir­raj Haqqani and it threat­ens to ‑QUOTE : ‘burn the high school to the ground’ UNQUOTE –, in an effort to enforce their sta­tus in the region and deny the local pop­u­la­tion their basic right to education.” 

Accord­ing to the offi­cial, Tal­iban spokes­men inten­tion­al­ly pro­vide false infor­ma­tion to meet oper­a­tional needs or to make up for a lack of actu­al information. 

“They are not bound by a respon­si­bil­i­ty to tell the truth. In fact, the rou­tine­ly exag­ger­ate causal­i­ty num­bers and dam­age fig­ures to ele­vate their stature and gen­er­ate a larg­er impact,” said the offi­cial. “There are numer­ous instances where the spokesman’s first noti­fi­ca­tion of an event is a request for com­ment from the media. Rather than admit lack of knowl­edge of the event, the spokes­men pro­vide fab­ri­cat­ed data and adjust their num­bers incre­men­tal­ly as they gain bet­ter fideli­ty from their networks.” 

The Tal­iban are also disin­gen­u­ous in their mes­sages and direc­tives, the offi­cial said. 

The offi­cial cit­ed Mul­lah Omar’s newest Tal­iban code of con­duct which orders insur­gent fight­ers to take the utmost care to avoid harm­ing civilians. 

“How­ev­er, the inter­nal guid­ance from Mul­lah Omar to his com­man­ders as of 1 June is more omi­nous, as it directs all Tal­iban to cap­ture or kill any Afghan civil­ian who is sup­port­ing or work­ing for the coali­tion or GIROA,” the offi­cial said. 

Last­ly, the offi­cial dis­cussed the Taliban’s intent to deny Afghans access to inde­pen­dent media offer­ing fac­tu­al information. 

“Their spokes­men do not hold them­selves to a truth stan­dard,” the offi­cial said. “Com­mon Tal­iban pro­pa­gan­da prac­tices are to fab­ri­cate or inflate dam­age esti­mates and deflect blame away from their fight­ers for civil­ian causalities.” 

As an exam­ple, the offi­cial cit­ed a June sui­cide bomb attack on a wed­ding par­ty in Kan­da­har Province which killed over 35 Afghans and injured more than 70. Fol­low­ing the event, Tal­iban spokes­men claimed area was bom­bard­ed by coali­tion forces. Evi­dence from an inves­ti­ga­tion into the event, includ­ing ball bear­ings found in the vic­tims’ bod­ies, proved the Tal­iban spokesperson’s claim false. 

Also, the offi­cial cit­ed Tal­iban press releas­es fol­low­ing recent attacks on Bagram, Kan­da­har and Jalal­abad air­fields. In all three cas­es, the Tal­iban released report­ed large num­bers of Coali­tion causal­i­ties and sig­nif­i­cant dam­age to facil­i­ties when, in real­i­ty, the insur­gents nev­er breached a sin­gle air­field and casu­al­ties to coali­tion force were minimal. 

“The Afghan pop­u­la­tion is very much aware of the two faces of the Tal­iban and its lead­ers, yet the media fre­quent­ly por­trays the Tal­iban as a benev­o­lent orga­ni­za­tion that seeks to pro­tect the pop­u­la­tion and safe­guard Afghan insti­tu­tions,” the offi­cial said. “As you can see from Mul­lah Omar’s per­son­al guid­ance and the Taliban’s con­tin­ued tar­get­ing of inno­cent civil­ians, their true agen­da is some­thing entire­ly dif­fer­ent and not intend­ed to ben­e­fit Afghanistan.” 

Press release
Com­piled from Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force Joint Com­mand News Releases 

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