Information Warfare: The Taliban Air Force In The News

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November 3, 2009: There is an interesting story circulating in northern Afghanistan, where there has been an upsurge in Taliban activity this year. It generally involves helicopters landing and unloading dozens of Taliban warriors, who proceed to start killing and looting. The other variant has Taliban fighters, surrounded by Afghan Army troops, being rescued, and flow away by helicopters. None of the people who have been said to have witnessed these mysterious helicopters, can provide useful information, like the identification numbers and symbols typically displayed on military and civilian helicopters. All the helicopters in question appear to be painted black, with no identifying marks. This sort of thing is nothing new. Last year, many Pakistanis insisted that the then recent Islamic terrorist attack in Mumbai, India, was the work of the Israeli Mossad, or the American CIA. Such fantasies are a common explanation, in Moslem nations, for Islamic terrorist atrocities. Especially when women and children, and Moslems, are among the victims, other Moslems tend to accept fantastic explanations shifting the blame to infidels (non-Moslems).

Conspiracies are not unique to the Moslem world, but they are much more common there. After the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, many Moslems again blamed Israel. A favorite variation of this is that, before the attacks on the World Trade Center, a secret message went out to all Jews in the area to stay away. Another variation has it that the 19 attackers (all of them Arab, 15 from Saudi Arabia) were really not Arabs, but falsely identified as part of the Israeli deception. In the United States, some Americans insist that the attack was the work of the U.S. government, complete with the World Trade Center towers being brought down by prepositioned explosive charges. While few Americans accept this, the Moslem fantasies are widely accepted in the Moslem world. Even Western educated Arabs, speaking good English, will casually express, and accept, these tales of the Israeli Mossad staging the attacks, to trick the U.S. into attacking Afghanistan and Iraq. Americans are shocked at this, but the Moslems expressing these beliefs just shrug.

American troops arriving in Iraq went through a real culture shock as they encountered these cultural difference. They also discovered that the cause of this, and many other Arab problems, was the concept of "inshallah" ("If God wills it.") This is a basic tenet of Islam, although some scholars believe the attitude preceded that religion. In any event, "inshallah" is deadly when combined with modern technology. For this reason, Arab countries, and other Moslem nations like Afghanistan, either have poorly maintained infrastructure and equipment (including military stuff), or import a lot of foreigners, possessing the right attitudes, to maintain everything. That minority of Arabs who do have the right attitude towards maintenance and personal responsibility are considered odd, but useful.

The "inshallah" thing is made worse by a stronger belief in the supernatural, and magic in general. This often extends to technology. Thus many Iraqis believe that American troops wear sunglasses that see through clothing, and armor vests that are actually air conditioned. When they first encounter these beliefs, U.S. troops thought the Arabs are putting them on. Then it sinks in that Arabs really believe this stuff. It's a scary moment.

However, many troops learn to live with, and even exploit, these odd beliefs. When troops at one base discovered that they weren't being attacked much, because many of the locals believed that the base was surrounded by a force field, the troops would casually make reference to their force field, when they were outside the wire and among the locals. This reinforced the force field myth, and made the base safer. Other troops would invent new fantasies, like a pretending that a handheld bit of military electronics was actually a mind reading device. That often made interrogations go a lot quicker. Not all Arabs and Afghans believe in this stuff, and those that didn't and worked for the Americans, often as an interpreter, could only shrug their shoulders when asked about it.

This easy acceptance of fantasies is exploited by leaders throughout the Middle East, and the Moslem world in general. Leaders who know better, build on these fantasies as a way to maintain their control over the population. The problem is a dirty little secret in the Moslem world, that leaders and academics don't even like to discuss it openly, much less with infidels. But it is real, and you can read all about it in the local media, or overhear it in the coffee shops.

As for northern Afghanistan, there are some less discussed reasons for Taliban showing up. For one thing, there's the unsavory business of truckloads of Taliban bribing their way past military checkpoints. Then there are the pockets of Pushtun tribes in the north, where they live in uneasy peace with their Uzbek, Tajik and Hazara neighbors. Some of the southern Pushtun (from whence the Taliban come), are heavily into the heroin business, and would like to move some of their operations north. Terrorizing some of the northern Pushtun into helping out requires some Taliban firepower. But Taliban helicopters are unlikely. Even if they came from Pakistan (where the Pakistani military has helped out that way in the past), avoiding NATO aircraft, and American spy satellites, would be difficult to do every time. And with all the cell phones out there these days, there are no photos, of the mysterious helicopters, in circulation.

 


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