Taliban Rapid Response PR Keeps U.S. on Defensive

Taliban fighterThe U.S. just replaced its commander in Afghanistan because the war on the Taliban is going badly. There is another front, though not mortally deadly, that is just as important – the ruthless PR war.  We’re not talking live combat, unless you consider public relations a blood sport (as some do), but it could determine the outcome of this protracted and critical battle. 

There is a lesson here, learned by skilled PR people, successful politicians, guerrilla fighters and chess players: he who strikes first has the advantage. The Taliban, unencumbered by bureaucracy or scruples, are usually first to condemn U.S. air strikes and frame the story for journalists and their constituents.  That leaves U.S. spokespeople to deny or condemn initial reports, sounding defensive or evasive.

Winning the “hearts and minds” of the people has always been an important element of war – bomb them, then console them, tear the country up, then be a hero by re-building it. Precise messaging is not enough, especially in the digital age. Speed of execution is key, using technology wisely, developing a strategy beforean event – this all helps, although it does not assure success. Bottom line – foreign forces never know a country as well as locals and will always be seen as demons telling lies for their own benefit.  I wonder if the Taliban have invaded Twitter yet?

The official spokesperson of the Taliban Movement is Mula “Ma’soum Afghani” – no photos of him are available.

Key tactic: be first to comment.Homayoun Shuaid, a journalist based in Kandahar, says that when he called Qazi Yusuf Ahmadi, the militants’ southern spokesman, to get a reaction on the US claims, they were dismissed as a “bunch of lies and propaganda.”

“It’s usually the other way around,” with the US rejecting Taliban reports, says Mr. Shuaid.

After an attack or errant US airstrike, Taliban representatives usually text message or e-mail reports to him “within minutes,” giving their version of what happened, Shuaid continues.

Their claims are almost always exaggerated, he says. But because they arrive first, he says, they take on the currency of truth among a populace that receives most of its information via radio or word of mouth. US fights Taliban on another front: public relations,  Christian Science Monitor

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