KABUL, Afghanistan - The Taliban have created a sophisticated media network to undermine support for the Afghan government, sending threats by text message and spreading the militia's views through songs available as ring tones, according to a report released yesterday.
The International Crisis Group report comes as the Islamist militia that was ousted from power in Afghanistan by the 2001 US-led invasion is making a violent comeback, particularly in the country's south and east.
The Taliban's propaganda exploits civilian killings by foreign forces and corruption in the US-backed government to add to Afghans' disillusionment about their lives, according to the report by the Brussels-based group. It said the Afghan government and its foreign allies should respond more quickly to their mistakes and highlight the Taliban's atrocities.
Many of the messages that have been distributed - apparently not always directly produced by the Taliban - come in the form of songs, religious chants, and poetry that appeal to Afghan nationalism and Islamic pride.
Some of the tunes are available as ring tones for phones, and cassettes include songs such as "Let me go to jihad," the report said. Some people reported that they kept the cassettes as a form of protection in case they were stopped by Taliban.
One poem - "Death is a gift," on Al Emarah - included the phrase, "I will not kiss the hand of Laura Bush."
The Taliban movement also has a website, Al Emarah, or The Emirate, which has various domain names due to attempts to block it. The Taliban also publish pamphlets and magazines, and their communications come in multiple languages including English. DVDs and audio cassettes also are used.
Because illiteracy is widespread in Afghanistan, and many Afghans have little to no access to the Internet or television, the Taliban also use traditional means of communication to spread their message. They often send shabnamahs - fliers that are often distributed at night in an area. Often the letters threaten people who work with international forces or the government, the report said.
The report also said that Taliban media play up civilian casualties caused by foreign forces but deny involvement in most bombings that kill a large number of ordinary Afghans. Because of the poor security situation, independent journalists often have a difficult time verifying claims of either side.
Obeidullah Jan, a Barekzai tribal leader from Kandahar Province, said that the Taliban had tremendous influence on local media and that journalists in the area often reported their claims. But even if the Taliban had no media outreach, their impact - from suicide attacks to gunbattles - is hard to miss, he said.
"Whether they use the media or not, the people are witnessing their activities," Jan said.
The media messages at times underscore the loose, disorganized nature of the militancy.
The report notes that the Taliban as well as the Hezb-i-Islami network of warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar each claimed credit for a suicide attack in Kabul's Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood in November 2007. Later that year, the Taliban website announced the dismissal of a Taliban commander, but the commander's spokesman rejected it, telling reporters it was a "conspiracy by some elements within the Taliban movement," the report said.