January 12, 2009:
The Taliban effort to exploit local and foreign media, by using civilians as human shields, to get more Afghan civilians killed, and forcing the foreigners to change their ROE (Rules of Engagement) to the point that the Taliban can avoid air strikes if they just grab some women and children, is working. Last year, 1,160 civilians were killed because of Taliban activity and the fighting with Afghan and foreign troops. While two-thirds of those civilians were killed by the Taliban, 32 percent of those civilians were killed by Afghan or foreign troops. The Afghan government can only condemn the Taliban use of terror (murder, kidnapping, arson and looting), but they are expected to do something about the civilian deaths caused by foreign troops. The Taliban also use these fatalities to stir up those opposed to foreign troops even being in Afghanistan (an ancient and cherished tradition among many Pushtun tribes), and this results in newsworthy demonstrations and protests.
There are actually fewer civilian deaths in Afghanistan, compared to Iraq, because of terrorist attacks. Al Qaeda learned their lesson in Iraq, and are not as murderous against uncooperative Afghan tribal leaders as they were against Iraqi ones. This time around, the Taliban seek to either ally with, scare off, or buy off all the tribes in southern Afghanistan, and form a Pushtun coalition capable to defeating the tribes that comprise the other 60 percent of the Afghan population. At best, that will lead to another civil war. But this reality does not dissuade the Taliban leaders, who believe they are on a Mission From God.
Despite this Information War success, the Taliban suffer from having a very mixed message. Putting the entire country under Taliban rule is not a popular idea with the 60 percent of the population who are not Pushtun. And after experiencing five years of Taliban rule in the late 1990s, many Pushtun are not eager to try it again. While most Afghans could live with Islamic law, there is a lot of disagreement over exactly what that law would be. The al Qaeda version offends most Afghans, and al Qaeda itself is seen as just another bunch of foreigners, and an unpleasant lot as well. Most Afghans have not forgotten that, for the last two years of Taliban rule, a brigade of al Qaeda fighters was used to enforce Taliban rule (where the pro-Taliban Afghan militias refused to do the dirty work.) The reputation al Qaeda earned in Iraq, as a merciless murderer of Moslems, does not help the terrorist group either. So while the "stop foreigners from killing Afghan civilians" campaign helps the Taliban, it does not help them enough to overcome an unpleasant reputation and unsavory past.