Update from the Afghan Communications Front

January 25, 2010 at 2:37 pm Leave a comment

President Hamid Karzai

Major media have reported recent developments in the Afghanistan public relations war between the Taliban and the United States and its allies. This communications battle entwines the armed conflict, and Gen. Stanley McChrystal identifies it as essential to success in his “Commander’s Initial Assessment.”

My previous posts on public relations’ importance  in the Afghan theatre:

“More from the Afghan Communications Front,” focusing on the McChrystal report to Defense Secretary Gates.

“Admiral Mullen Communicates,” examining concerns by the Chairman of the Joint Chief’s of Staff regarding strategic communications.

“Heart and Minds 2009,” supporting the announcement of a stepped-up “information war” in Afghanistan.

The New York Times reports Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s edicts to improve the insurgent group’s reputation, including a moratorium on “suicide bombings against civilians, burning down schools, or cutting off ears, lips and tongues.” NYT says that the Taliban are using a broad communications mix to counter American/NATO/Afghan central government campaigns. According to the article, the UN has found anti-government forces cause more than twice as many civilian casualties as pro-government forces, undermining the Taliban’s support among the general population.

According to NYT, The Taliban disseminate information faster than NATO officials as they are less concerned with veracity. Contradicting previous fundamentalist condemnations of the medium, they are using the Web, including a well-designed, multilingual site called “Voice of the Jihad.” Per The Wall Street Journal, content on this site trumpets Taliban “victories” and describes confusion and ineffectiveness among NATO and Afghan government forces.

The BBC reports that the Taliban contacted local media while carrying out their recent coordinated attacks in Kabul. In further examples of their media relations, Taliban spokesmen regularly issue statements, with the media contacting them for clarifications and quotes. Understanding the communication imperative and the PR advantages the enemy routinely seeks, Afghan President Hamid Karzai held a news conference two hours after the Taliban attacks and gave medals to Afghan commandos who performed well in the counterattack.

As many experts have insisted, and I have concurred in this blog, a consistent, pervasive communications strategy is mandatory to victory in Afghanistan. The Taliban understand that. Why else would they be pitching the media at the very moment they were attacking Pashtunistan Square? The Taliban are using proven communication channels and techniques. They are smart enough to modulate their brutality (or at least promise as much) in the name of public image. We were right to announce an escalation of the information war in 2009. That’s where the enemy continues to fight for the high ground.


Entry filed under: Crisis Communications, Leadership, Public Affairs, Public Relations. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , .

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