Jul 10, 2007

Taliban Information Operations Evolving

This month, a Pakistani journalist filmed a Taliban "graduation ceremony" for would-be suicide bombers.

The video shows a "graduating class of suicide bombers" ready to travel to the United States and Western Europe to carry out suicide attacks.

The video deviates from usual suicide-bomber propaganda. Normally, such propaganda appears post-mortem, after a suicide attack has taken place, and is congratulatory in nature. It normally takes the form of a eulogy to salute the "martyrdom" of the bomber and is accompanied by a message celebrating the bomber's service to the cause of Allah and Islam.

The videos are designed to celebrate the ultimate sacrifice of the fighter and entice others to follow in his or her footsteps. Whereas traditional propaganda focuses on a single individual or a small group (such as the perpetrators of the September 11, 2001, attacks), this video shows a large number of candidates ready for suicide operations.

In another divergence, the video shows future suicide bombers displaying their enthusiasm for the task ahead. Whereas typical videos attempt to inspire others to become "martyrs", this one is also designed to intimidate and threaten Western officials, promising to unleash an "armada" of suicide bombers striving to strike Western interests in their native countries - unless the occupiers of Afghanistan depart.

The video appears specifically to target Anglo-Saxon audiences, because the ceremony emulates an Anglo-Saxon graduation ceremony. The video displays groups of "students" dressed in white and seated on the ground, while they hear the new Taliban commander, Mansur Dadullah, deliver a fiery "commencement address".

During his address, the crowd listens intently as Dadullah exhorts them to avenge the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's intervention in Afghanistan. Dadullah says, "Listen, all you Westerners and Americans. You came from thousands of kilometers away to fight us. Now we will get back to you in your countries and attack you."

According to a June 18 British Broadcasting Corp report on the video, the "students", organized in six national "brigades" (British, American, Canadian, German, French and Afghan), then take turns pledging future action. The film ends with one student speaking in English, with a heavy South Asian accent, announcing that his team plans to travel to Britain to carry out attacks there.

Although the message in itself is familiar, the new packaging demonstrates the Taliban's changing tactics. During the past two years, rather than launching frontal offensives against NATO, the Taliban have increasingly relied on tactics used by insurgents in Iraq to divide the NATO alliance and weaken its commitment to assisting and supporting President Hamid Karzai's government in Kabul.

To that end, the Taliban have increased their attacks on coalition and Afghan security forces significantly. They also have emulated several of the egregious tactics of Iraq's Sunni insurgents (such as suicide bombings, improvised explosive devices and kidnappings). ...

The "graduation video" appears to complement the Taliban's new tactics and is designed to raise greatly the cost of staying in Afghanistan for Western governments. If attacking their citizens in Afghanistan is not enough to make Western countries withdraw, then threatening to attack their homelands is the next logical step.

By disturbing the peace in Western countries, the Taliban may be hoping to provoke a stern public reaction against the NATO presence in Afghanistan. Whether the Taliban are actually capable of dispatching an armada of suicide bombers to Western Europe and North America remains to be seen. Regardless, the video makes their intent clear, and the recent terrorist incidents in the United Kingdom should incite governments to take their threat seriously.

The video can be seen at YouTube.

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