The Taliban's Mastery Of Information Warfare

The swift collapse of the 20-year western mission to Afghanistan took only a single day as Taliban gunmen entered , Kabul, on Sunday 15th August. President Ghani fled the country, and America abandoned its embassy in panic. The Taliban’s objective to seize control of Afghanistan and re-establish an Islamic Emirate has been achieved. 

For years, the Taliban has used social media to spread its messages. In fact, more than 70 percent of the Afghan population has access to cell phones, and the Taliban adapted to this, using modern, Russian-style information warfare to deploy fake accounts and bots to spread its messages and undermine the Afghan government.

This pragmatism reflects the Taliban’s understanding that the group cannot govern Afghanistan the same way it did in the 1990s and the Taliban will seek to keep the country connected to the world and the foreign aid flowing. The Taliban combines information operations, including appeals from tribal elders alongside text messages and Twitter, with decentralised orders that allow local commanders who know the terrain and politics in their areas to identify opportunities for taking the initiative. 

Social media is used as a significant platform for political engagement and is used for propaganda and has been used by the Taliban who have been engaged in strategic information warfare on multiple fronts.The rapidly unfolding crisis in Afghanistan, spearheaded by the fall of regional centres became a significant element in the Taliban narrative.

Facebook Ban On Taliban-related Content

Facebook has announced it will ban the Taliban and related content from its platforms as it says the group is a terrorist organisation. The company says it has a dedicated team of Afghan experts to monitor and remove content linked to the group. Its rapid takeover of Afghanistan raises fresh challenges for technology firms on how to deal with content related to the group. "The Taliban is sanctioned as a terrorist organisation under US law and we have banned them from our services under our Dangerous Organisation policies... This means we remove accounts maintained by or on behalf of the Taliban and prohibit praise, support, and representation of them," a Facebook spokesperson told the BBC.

Terrorism On The Internet

Technology is one of the strategic factors driving the increasing use of the Internet by terrorist organisations and their supporters for a wide range of purposes, including recruitment, financing, propaganda, training, incitement to commit acts of terrorism, and the gathering and dissemination of information for terrorist purposes. While the many benefits of the Internet are self-evident, it may also be used to facilitate communication within terrorist organisations and to transmit information on, as well as material support for, planned acts of terrorism, all of which require specific technical knowledge for the effective investigation of these offences. 

  • Like other modern insurgent groups, the Taliban use modern communication and as one of their most potent weapons, Now that Afghans have access to messaging services and apps such as WhatsApp, Telegram and others, the Taliban has an even stronger position to promote its narrative.
  • However, unlike insurgent groups like Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda, the Taliban does not operate in the shadows, but uses every media avenue possible to get its narrative out not just to the people of Afghanistan, but a worldwide audience.The Taliban’s propaganda has also focused on delivering messages to its soldiers and attempting to maintain unity amongst them. 

There is a significant difference in what the Taliban is able and capable to do online, using various platforms, compared to others such as IS and al-Qaeda. The Taliban’s digital footprint can be traced back to the 2005-06 period when parts of its website, named Alemara, went online. Today the website and its content is available in Dari, Pashto and English, much like most of the official and semi-official social media handles that are either run by or run in support of the Taliban. 

On social media, the Taliban has a very wide presence, led by its use of Twitter, although it is important to remember that the Taliban is not officially designated as a terrorist group by the US, giving it legitimacy to use Western social media tools without the threat of repercussion. 

The legitimacy the Taliban gained by online platforms and its violent and extremist methods raises significant questions over individual social media platforms and their own counter-extremist and counter-terrorism policies. 

Whether legal clearance given to an insurgency or terror group purely due to political strategy, or the wisdom of a state’s foreign policy is a good enough reason to allow such groups digital legitimacy, is a question that deserves the most serious consideration.

GNet Research:      Guardian:       World Bank:        IMGB:       Atlantic Council:       BBC:     United Nations:

JIfoWar:      Observer Research Foundataion:     Taylor & Francis:     US Congress:

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