An attack on a checkpoint in Wardak caused more than a hundred soldiers stationed at nearby police positions to abandon their posts and flee. Is the Taliban's propaganda breaking the morale of Afghan forces?
An Afghan soldier guards an army checkpoint in Wardak Province (photo: Qarib Rahman Shahab)
Afghanistan’s Interior Minister Noor-ul-Haq Ulumi has admitted to the Afghan Parliament that the Taliban’s propaganda and psychological warfare campaign was a strong factor behind the temporary fall of Kunduz and the delay in retaking the city.
While the fall of Kunduz illustrated the Taliban’s ability to stage a large-scale military campaign, experts say the war is being won or lost away from the battlefields as much as anywhere else.
“Half of the war is already won with the proper execution of propaganda,” Dr. Ahmad Khalid Hatim, a professor of psychology, told Afghanistan Today. One recent incident in Wardak illustrates the domino effect a single act can have on a troupe of soldiers.
In July this year the Taliban overran an Afghan Local Police (ALP) checkpoint on the highway in Jalraiz District in Wardak, southwest of Kabul. The ALP soldiers allegedly abandoned their posts without resistance. The attack prompted 100 other Afghan police to retreat from the other 10 nearby check posts and go to the district of Khuja Mohmmad Wali.
The Wardak governor says reinforcements were sent but that the soldiers had already abandoned their posts. One Wardak MP says word-of-mouth propaganda is responsible for many desertions and is the main influence on soldiers’ moral in remote areas, where state capacity and mass media are absent.
“The Taliban’s propaganda - added to numerous lies of obtaining advanced weapons, fresh recruitments, stories of killing many Afghan security forces and capturing large areas – means security forces hear such stories and come under psychological pressure immediately,” says Shareefullah Hottak, a member of the Provincial Council in Wardak Province.
A resident in Jaghatu district says Taliban members create their own media outside mosques and in public spaces.
Rumours of a war
Afghan forces in Wardak
“The Taliban always make claims of new and advanced weapons they have received, tens of new recruits that have joined their ranks, that they have accessed the government’s plans and they have blue prints of the check posts and bases of the government security forces,” the resident, who preferred not to be named, told Afghanistan Today.
“We don’t have television signal in our area, neither do we have electricity, nor do we have Internet services. Whatever the Taliban says in the mosques in each village, that’s what seems the truth to us and the same stories then reach the government forces,” added the elder in Jaghatu District.
The Taliban have even set up a 24-hour hotline to lure Afghan forces to their ranks, with a corresponding Facebook page. “Propaganda has become a vital part of the war, hundreds of our people have accounts on Facebook and Twitter, we put our staff out there and it has a good impact for our cause,” Zabiullah Mujahid, a generic name for the Taliban’s ‘spokesman’, told Afghanistan Today.
Najeeb Danish, deputy spokesperson for the Ministry of Interior Affairs (MoIA), says the government does not “rely” on propaganda tools. “We don’t rely on propaganda against the Taliban, we only tell the truth, the facts through the media, social media, banners and press releases to inform the people,” Danish told Afghanistan Today. “The Taliban on the other hand with their lies try to pollute the minds of ordinary Afghans.”