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.”
Compiled from International Security Assistance Force Joint Command News Releases
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