Taliban fighters double as reporters to wage Afghan digital war

KABUL (Reuters) – Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s chief spokesman and editor-in-chief of the rebel group’s day by day information bulletin, begins day-after-day by accumulating reviews of in a single day combating with U.S. and Afghan forces.

FILE PHOTO: Taliban stroll as they have a good time ceasefire in Ghanikhel district of Nangarhar province, Afghanistan June 16, 2018. REUTERS/Parwiz

Mujahid says he will get his crew of writers to cross-check details shared by among the hardline Islamist teams fighters, who double as reporters within the 34 provinces throughout the nation. The writers put together press statements in 5 languages and collect footage and images shot on smartphones.

The editor-in-chief then approves ultimate drafts of the reviews – highlighting the group’s claimed victories in its war geared toward toppling the U.S.-backed Afghan authorities – earlier than they’re revealed by IT specialists based mostly outdoors the nation.

While some Afghan journalists say its accuracy is patchy, and its opponents accuse it of spreading “fake news”, the Taliban’s slick media operation has emerged as a key weapon within the data war that always leaves the Western-backed authorities and its U.S. companions struggling to catch up.

Last month, for instance the Taliban was swift to deny involvement in a suicide assault on the communications ministry in Kabul later blamed on Islamic State, whereas data from the federal government was slower to emerge.

Taliban spokesmen say they’ve additionally stepped up their outreach as the tempo of direct talks between its negotiators and the United States on ending the war in Afghanistan has picked up in latest months. They are sometimes faster than U.S. officers to give their read-out from the talks – the sixth spherical of which wrapped up in Qatar on Thursday.

“Whatever developments occur during the Doha talks, we share it with journalists,” mentioned Mujahid, including that the messages have been geared toward home and worldwide audiences.


Mujahid and his colleague Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, two Taliban spokesmen based mostly in Afghanistan, say they’re approved to work together with journalists, subject statements and tweet. They typically reply to textual content or voice messages from Reuters correspondents based mostly in Kabul inside an hour.

While their location can’t be verified, they use Afghan cellphone numbers to entry WhatsApp. The names they use are pseudonyms assigned to them by the Taliban management.

“We are not authorized to reveal our real names, the two pen names are used to retain uniformity,” Mujahid, who has greater than 42,000 Twitter followers, instructed Reuters in a phone interview.

In 2011, the Taliban management began posting recurrently on Twitter, a shock transfer by the novel Islamist motion that after banned most types of fashionable leisure.

They now talk on messaging apps WhatsApp, Viber and Telegram in English, Pashto, Dari, Arabic and Urdu.

“We understand the importance of spreading information about our jihad and our determination to re-establish the Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan,” mentioned Mujahid, who says he attracts a month-to-month wage of 14,000 Afghani ($180), plus $128 for web and cellular bills.

“Now many diplomats from various countries seek an audience with our leaders and follow us on social media,” he added.

“After 17 years of struggle we are winning the actual war and the digital war against infidels and the puppet regime established by the Americans to govern Afghanistan.”

Afghan and Western officers dispute each statements. Government forces and their navy allies, they are saying, are inflicting heavy casualties on the Taliban on the battlefield, and proceed to launch air strikes to destroy their camps. The Taliban’s media operation is dismissed as misinformation.

“Their false claims and exaggerated reports have reached an absurd style beyond any reason,” mentioned Colonel Knut Peters, the spokesman for NATO-led Resolute Support in Afghanistan, who carefully tracks Taliban statements.

“They are obviously trying to boost their own self-confidence while their fighters are dying in large numbers.”

Since October, U.S. and Taliban officers have held talks geared toward making ready the bottom for U.S. forces to withdraw from Afghanistan in return for a Taliban assure that the nation won’t be used as a base for militant assaults elsewhere.

In latest months, the Taliban have repeatedly rejected calls to declare a ceasefire, and as a substitute intensified their assaults on Afghan forces and authorities places of work.


Afghan journalists who’ve been masking the Taliban for the reason that 1990s mentioned earlier than the arrival of social media the group despatched out hand-written pamphlets and information reviews to Afghan reporters based mostly in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Javed Hamim Kakar, a senior editor with Pajhwok Afghan News, the nation’s oldest personal information company, mentioned the rebel group has since created a posh community to disseminate information.

But a bent to exaggerate casualties inflicted undermines the Taliban information operation’s credibility, he mentioned.

In April, for instance, the Taliban reported its fighters had carried out a profitable assault on Bagram, the most important U.S. air base in Afghanistan about 50 km (30 miles) north of Kabul, wherein it mentioned dozens of overseas service personnel have been killed or wounded.

U.S. officers in Kabul denied the assault had taken place.

“If you send them a query they respond very fast, but accuracy is always a question. Propaganda is part of fighting, the Taliban are very good at it,” Kakar mentioned.

Mujahid and Ahmadi settle for there have been quite a few cases once they have revealed unsubstantiated claims of assaults and that generally fighters have introduced an exaggerated model.

“There are allegations that our communication is rife with sensationalism and embellishment but we never abandon the truth,” mentioned Ahmadi. “We correct it immediately.”

The authorities can be typically accused of inflating its battlefield reviews. A senior protection official acquainted with the state of affairs acknowledged the federal government typically under-reports casualties amongst Afghan forces, whereas readily offering numbers for Taliban militants they are saying they’ve killed.

There isn’t any impartial affirmation of the figures given by both facet, making it unattainable to absolutely assess the on-the-ground state of affairs.

FILE PHOTO: Taliban stand as Afghan safety forces trip on a military car throughout celebration ceasefire in Bati Kot district of Nangarhar province, Afghanistan June 16, 2018. REUTERS/Parwiz

The Taliban’s communications operation, which is now run at an annual price of 25 million Afghanis ($323,000), began out as a small workplace in Kabul when the Islamists dominated the nation from 1996 to 2001 and has expanded since they have been ousted.

It now publishes six magazines in Pashto, Dari, Urdu and Arabic, and posts information reviews on 10 web sites in 5 languages, as effectively as working smaller web sites that supply theological steerage, movies, and war poetry written by fighters.

“Despite the threats, we now run an efficient media office,” mentioned Ahmadi, a graduate in non secular research. “But maintaining haze around our identity is more crucial now as we are winning and the enemy is getting increasingly frustrated.”

Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Rupam Jain; Editing James Mackenzie and Alex Richardson

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Source link reuters.com

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