The Taliban in media battle space
The Taliban have a surprisingly sophisticated media strategy which they have been using since the war began. Their anti aircraft strategy is mainly to claim that bombing attacks on their forces are hitting wedding parties instead. More recently they have used human shields in order to claim civilian casualties.
As the world awaits the highly anticipated announcement of the President’s Afghan War strategy, the Taliban is actively trying to influence the debate in Washington through a sophisticated information campaign. Emphasizing the intractability of the conflict, the Taliban seek to dissuade the White House from investing more blood and treasure in a war that they contend will be a bloody, drawn-out struggle. However, there is little truth in the Taliban’s media blitz. It is a strategic mistake for decision makers in Washington to buy-in to the Taliban’s propaganda efforts.
The Taliban is aggressively attempting to rebrand their image and feed talking points to those in favor of de-escalation. Last month, the Taliban’s senior leadership released a statement claiming that, "[they] did not have any agenda to harm other countries including Europe, nor do we have such agenda today." This release coincided with a New York Times story claiming that the Obama administration has begun to define the Taliban as a group that "does not express ambitions of attacking the United States."
Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth. Earlier this year, a spokesman for the Taliban’s media wing said, "After removing America from our homeland and defeating them, we would then have achieved half of the work to free our occupied Muslim countries because with the collapse America… NATO will collapse. And all the towers of tyranny will collapse in the region, including Israel and Zionism, which receives its military, economic and political power from America." When asked if Afghanistan will become a center to attack targets outside of Afghanistan, he replied, "… After liberating Afghanistan we will do what concerns us of principle Islamic missions."
The Taliban clearly see the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan as an attack not only on their organization, but on Islam writ-large. They will not be satisfied with vanquishing America from their historical homeland, as they see their struggle as fundamental to Islamic missions across the globe. This is precisely the reason why Al Qaeda was allowed to train, plan, and launch attacks from Afghanistan. The Taliban are closely watching the debate unfolding in Washington and offering their insight on pending legislation. Recently, the Taliban’s day-to-day operational leader, Mullah Barader, released a statement directly addressed to President Obama, Carl Levin, and the Senate Armed Services Committee’s proposal to include “re-integration funding” in the Senate’s annual defense appropriations bill. As in Iraq, Senator Levin envisions doling out financial incentives for Taliban fighters who would be willing to switch sides. Barader urges the President that this strategy is bound to fail, as his fighters are not simply hired-hands, but deeply ideological and committed jihadists dedicated to the independence of the Afghan state and the widespread establishment of Sharia law...
This piece is a good example of how to counter the Taliban media battle space strategy. The military response to this strategy has been poorly handled in the past. We have allowed the Taliban story to get inside the media OODA loop which has allowed their story line to dominate the news on occasion.