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Taliban and civilian casualties – losing a media war?

April 16, 2013

By Tim Foxley

Summary: Another poorly thought-through and near-spontaneous Taliban announcement on civilian casualties strongly demonstrates the limitations of their media machine.

The Taliban have posted another statement related to civilian casualties in Afghanistan.  It comprises a short list of alleged civilian casualties caused by Afghan government and international forces from 2008 to 2013.  It states that the Taliban are doing their best to keep casualties to a minimum and accuses the international forces of planting most of the roadside bombs.

Taliban flagThe Islamic Emirate which is fighting to terminate the occupation, establish an Islamic system of life and restore peace and security for the masses, is committed more than anyone else to the Islamic rules and regulations and human values. Therefore it has launched its best efforts to prevent the civilian casualties. Everyone knows that the invaders and their allies are neither committed to the human values nor they abide by any law; they do whatever they want to; because there is none to hold them responsible. They do not care for anyone to reach their malicious goals. They commit every felony for the interest of their people. They kill the civilians, imprison them, demolish their houses and force them out from their homes and villages.

This is not a mere allegation; in the previous 11 years there are hundreds rather thousands instances which prove their anti humanity felonies. In the following we are reminding just a few of them:

In July 2008, the invaders bombed a wedding procession in Aoughaz area of Haska-Maian, in which 48 civilians, mostly children and women including the bride, were martyred. Two days prior to this incident, 22 civilians were martyred in Nooristan province in the invaders’ bombing.

In August 2008, one hundred and ten (110) civilians, mostly women and children, were martyred by the invaders’ bombing in Aziz-Abad village of Shindand district in Herat province.

In August 2009, an oil tanker, surrounded by the people, was bombed in Kunduz province, in which 150 civilians were martyred. In the same province, in November 2012, the Arbakis (a local tribal militia) martyred 10 civilians in the ruthless firing and injured 7 more.

In 2009, the invaders bombed the Grana village of Bala-Boluk district in Farah province and martyred more than 140 civilians in which 93 persons were below 18 years boys and girls; 25 were women and the remaining were ordinary aged people.

In February 2011, sixty five (65) civilians were bombed and martyred in Ghazi-Abad district of Kunar province. Similarly, in March 2011, nine (9) children, who had gone to the hill to collect woods in Pach valley of Kunar province, were bombed by the occupiers.

In March 2012, the bloody incident of Zang-Abad in Panjwai district of Kandahar province shocked the whole world. In June 2012, seventeen (17) civilians, mostly children and women including the bride, were martyred when a wedding procession was bombed in Sajawand area of Logar province.

Last year, in Urzgan province, an Arbaki commander named Shujaee, killed 17 civilians by shooting them in one day. Overall he has killed 120 ordinary people. This criminal is instigated by the invaders for this kind of felonies. He is fully supported by them therefore when he was arrested, he got released.

In January 2013, eighteen (18) civilians were martyred in bombing of a mosque and village in Tangi valley in Wardak province. And lo! Once again more than 20 persons including 12 children were immersed in blood in brutally bombing the civilian houses in Shaigal valley of Kunar province. Simultaneously they blew up a civilian transport bus by landmine in Salar area of Wardak province to conceal their transgression in which more than 30 people were either killed or wounded.

These were just a handful out of a heap, otherwise everyone knows better that the invaders and their stooges have ruthlessly killed tens of thousands civilians in the illegitimate war imposed over Afghan nation. Thousands have been imprisoned and tens of thousands have been made homeless.

It is worth mentioning that most of the roadside mines are planted by the invaders themselves just to vilify Mujahidin and then intentionally blow them up on the civilians. The enemy, who is on the verge of a historical defeat, wants to decrease the sympathy and support of masses with Mujahidin in this way. But, by the grace of Allah Almighty, the cautious and courageous Afghan nation understands everything well. Therefore the level of sympathy and support with Mujahidin against the enemy is rapidly growing and spreading day by day.

Analysis and Outlook

If there is one aspect of the media war that the Taliban appear to be increasingly struggling with, it is the issue of civilian casualties.  One might even say they recognise that they might be losing this part of the propaganda war.  This message is curious – it is a short list (I could certainly do a much better job of detailing civilian casualties caused by ISAF) and only begins in 2008.  On 9th April, the Taliban also posted an article on their website that intended to justify the 3rd April attack on the Farah courthouse that killed dozens of civilians.  The messages demonstrate the limitations of the evolution of their messaging capabilities – they can’t reference any evidence and they overload their communiques with denial, denouncement and deflection, rather than other more coherent or thoughtful approaches – for example genuine appeals to cooperate with, eg, Red Cross or UN to monitor and investigate, which they might have done if they genuinely felt they were being accused of things that they hadn’t done.  Their language carries a clear subtext of exasperation “why can’t people understand we are doing this for a good cause?”

What they do not seem able to acknowledge or understand is that when ISAF drops a bomb in the wrong place, it is very often acknowledged, apologised for and investigated.  The Taliban don’t seem to have an answer to this approach – we don’t make mistakes and we don’t apologise for mistakes

The Taliban do not yet appear to recognise that a messaging policy of ill thought-through and near-spontaneous denial and counter-accusation is a limited and unconvincing approach.  But, even if they do recognise this, they haven’t worked out what to do about it.

But this could be important for Afghanistan.  If the Taliban got into the business of admitting mistakes, investigating, apologising, compensating, if they started liaising with eg UN, Red Cross and other recognised Afghan or international institutions on the welfare of civilians they might improve their media image.  And they might start realising that some of their more extreme actions were working against them.  Then, they might actually slowly have moved towards a more coherent, approachable and, crucially, politically-recognisable movement.

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