Information Warfare: Something That Could, Might Or Ought To Be True Somewhere


October 4, 2010: In Afghanistan, the Taliban have been very successful with the media, mainly because they give the media what they want, or an offer they can't refuse. The Taliban know that the media loves stories where the underdog prevails, or where the powers-that-be screw up. Put out the right kind of disinformation, and the media will take it and run it as the truth. Or at least something that could, might or ought to be true somewhere.

The Taliban media people know what the Western and regional media want, and this is provided. For example, the Taliban have invented the idea that Western troops are causing most of the civilian deaths in the Taliban effort to regain control of Afghanistan. But the truth, which is published but not emphasized much, is that most of the civilians are killed by the Taliban, and the Western troops have been killing fewer and fewer civilians, even at the risk of more Western casualties. The Taliban regularly use civilians as human shields. Again, the media mentions that, but it's something for the back pages. The headlines stress what the Taliban wants, mainly that they are winning, even when they are losing.

The Taliban and drug gangs also have a great deal of control over the local media. They use bribes or threats to persuade the local media to protest the deaths (actual or otherwise, no rumor is wasted) of Afghan civilians at the hands of foreign troops. That has become more difficult of late, with the drug gangs taking huge financial losses in the last year. Less cash is being passed on to the Taliban. This money is needed to pay, and support (with food, ammo and the like) the thousands of Taliban gunmen. Most of these guys simply go home if the Taliban doesn't come up with the cash. Nearly as bad is the shortage of cash to bribe politicians, journalists, soldiers and policemen. But you don't have to bribe or threaten Western media. Just package your lies in an acceptable manner, and your message will be delivered. The Taliban are smart enough to constantly recast their press releases to suit the perceived needs of Western and regional media. All they have to do is note what stories editors are running, and work up new stuff with a Taliban angle. Thus while corruption has been an Afghan cultural problem for centuries, the Western media will swallow whole a Taliban press release suggesting that the Taliban are less corrupt (they aren't) and thus more attractive to the average Afghan (not according to opinion polls, or reports from American troops who deal with local Afghans every day.) But in the Western media, you survive by pushing what will sell, not what is actually happening.

The Taliban are pretty unpopular throughout Afghanistan. That occasionally gets reported, but journalists don't like to dwell on it, as it conflicts with the more profitable story of how the scrappy, underdog Taliban are defeating the mighty Western armies. Meanwhile, the NATO effort to shut down the drug operations is enormously popular worldwide, and especially inside Afghanistan and neighboring countries. That because the local nations, despite their poverty, find themselves with millions of drug (usually the cheaper opium) addicts. While the drug gangs bribe many local officials and security forces, the majority of the population is firmly against the drug operations.

Even among their core supporters in Helmand province, and around Kandahar, the Taliban are losing support. This region was always the heartland of Taliban support (the original Taliban came from the Pushtun tribes in this area), but the Taliban have been having a harder time recruiting fighters from these Pushtun tribes because, despite the high pay (several times what an Afghan policeman or soldier makes), Taliban tactics gets these guys killed too easily. To make matters worse, the Taliban leaders tend to get out of the way when NATO is coming, leaving behind the local hires, with promises that all they have to do is delay the foreign troops a little. Hasn’t been working out that way, with the rear guard often getting shot to pieces. While the Taliban will pay the families of these dead gunmen, other potential recruits are not encouraged by this generosity. Getting revenge for their dead kinsmen is a bigger draw, but since the Taliban gunmen are killed by anonymous foreign troops, most Afghans are content to simmer, and not court certain death for the sake of family honor. Not now anyway, maybe later.

Besides, there are more immediate revenge issues, as the majority of Afghans (the Tadjiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and so on), are still seeking vengeance against the Taliban for past atrocities. The biggest problem for the Taliban is not foreign troops, but angry and vengeful Afghans. The Taliban leadership have no strategy for this, other than establishing another Taliban dictatorship in Afghanistan, and using that to keep the vengeful tribesmen in line.

The Taliban leadership are true believers, or tribal politicians eager to find some opportunities to increase their power. Many of the hustlers in the Taliban leadership are either becoming strictly drug lords, or switching allegiance to the government. That's another problem with Afghanistan. There's never been a real national government, and there's always been a lot of corruption in the tribal governments that have ruled the area for thousands of years. But at least the tribal leaders would pass the loot around. The current effort to create and sustain a real national government is crippled by the corruption, and the fact that most Afghans are not sure what all these outsiders are talking about. But the Taliban rule of the late 1990s was also corrupt, and not even as successful as the current gang of thieves and wannabe bureaucrats. So few (10-20 percent) Afghans want them back. There are no easy solutions, or victories, in Afghanistan.





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