Taliban Fighters Double as Reporters to Wage New Digital Battle Towards America


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Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s chief spokesman and editor-in-chief of the rebel group’s every day information bulletin, begins each day by amassing experiences of in a single day preventing with U.S. and Afghan forces.

Mujahid says he will get his crew of writers to cross-check info shared by a number of 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 remaining drafts of the experiences – highlighting the group’s claimed victories in its battle aimed toward toppling the U.S.-backed Afghan authorities – earlier than they’re revealed by IT specialists based mostly outdoors the nation.

Whereas some Afghan journalists say its accuracy is patchy, and its opponents accuse it of spreading “pretend information,” the Taliban’s slick media operation has emerged as a key weapon within the info battle that usually leaves the Western-backed authorities and its U.S. companions struggling to catch up.

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

Taliban spokesmen say they’ve additionally stepped up their outreach because the tempo of direct talks between its negotiators and america on ending the battle in Afghanistan has picked up in current months. They’re typically faster than U.S. officers to present their read-out from the talks – the sixth spherical of which wrapped up in Qatar on Thursday.

“No matter developments happen in the course of the Doha talks, we share it with journalists,” mentioned Mujahid, including that the messages had been aimed toward home and worldwide audiences.

ONLINE PRESENCE

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

Whereas 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 aren’t approved to disclose our actual names, the 2 pen names are used to retain uniformity,” Mujahid, who has greater than 42,000 Twitter followers, advised Reuters in a phone interview.

In 2011, the Taliban management began posting frequently 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 perceive the significance of spreading details about our jihad and our dedication 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 cell bills.

“Now many diplomats from numerous nations search an viewers with our leaders and observe us on social media,” he added.

“After 17 years of wrestle we’re successful the precise battle and the digital battle in opposition to infidels and the puppet regime established by the People to control Afghanistan.”

Afghan and Western officers dispute each statements. Authorities forces and their army 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 experiences have reached an absurd type past any cause,” mentioned Colonel Knut Peters, the spokesman for NATO-led Resolute Assist in Afghanistan, who carefully tracks Taliban statements.

“They’re clearly attempting to spice up their very own self-confidence whereas their fighters are dying in giant numbers.”

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

In current months, the Taliban have repeatedly rejected calls to declare a ceasefire, and as an alternative intensified their assaults on Afghan forces and authorities workplaces.

TALIBAN NEWSROOM

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

Javed Hamim Kakar, a senior editor with Pajhwok Afghan Information, the nation’s oldest non-public information company, mentioned the rebel group has since created a fancy community to disseminate information.

However an inclination to magnify 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 biggest U.S. air base in Afghanistan about 50 km (30 miles) north of Kabul, by which it mentioned dozens of overseas service personnel had been killed or wounded. U.S. officers in Kabul denied the assault had taken place.

“In the event you ship them a question they reply very quick, however accuracy is at all times a query. Propaganda is a part of preventing, the Taliban are excellent at it,” Kakar mentioned.

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

“There are allegations that our communication is rife with sensationalism and embellishment however we by no means abandon the reality,” mentioned Ahmadi. “We right it instantly.”

The federal government can also be typically accused of inflating its battlefield experiences. A senior protection official aware of 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 is no such thing as a unbiased affirmation of the figures given by both facet, making it unattainable to totally assess the on-the-ground state of affairs.

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 had been ousted.

It now publishes six magazines in Pashto, Dari, Urdu and Arabic, and posts information experiences on 10 web sites in 5 languages, in addition to working smaller web sites that supply theological steering, movies, and battle poetry written by fighters.

“Regardless of the threats, we now run an environment friendly media workplace,” mentioned Ahmadi, a graduate in spiritual research. “However sustaining haze round our identification is extra essential now as we’re successful and the enemy is getting more and more pissed off.”

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