Small Wars Journal

Book Review - "Taliban Narratives: The Use and Power of Stories in the Afghanistan Conflict"

Book Review - "Taliban Narratives: The Use and Power of Stories in the Afghanistan Conflict" by Thomas Johnson – Review by J.P. Lawrence - Stars & Stripes

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The Americans knew the Taliban set off the blast that ripped through Kandahar, Afghanistan, during Ramadan in 2009. The explosion killed 41 and wounded more than 60.

Many Afghans in the city, however, were convinced the United States was to blame, recalls Thomas Johnson, who was based in Kandahar as a counterinsurgency adviser to U.S. forces.

The Taliban got the benefit of the doubt, even among those in Kandahar working with the Americans, said Johnson, who was conducting interviews with tribal leaders at the time.

Similarly, conspiracy theories arose in Kandahar in recent weeks blaming the U.S. for killing Afghan strongman Abdul Raziq — and not the Taliban who claimed responsibility for the attack.

Those wondering how the Taliban persist as an insurgency can look to Johnson’s recent book, “Taliban Narratives: The Use and Power of Stories in the Afghanistan Conflict,” which is soon to be translated into Dari and Pashto.

America’s 17-year war in Afghanistan was never going to be won by brave soldiers blowing things up, but by winning the battle of the narrative, writes Johnson, now a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School. Whoever had the best narrative would win, as an effective information operations campaign can push people toward interpreting an event in a certain way.

Johnson’s book traces how the Taliban used simple songs and poems in their bid to convince the Afghan people that the U.S. and its allies were occupiers, while the U.S. meanwhile was not able to convince many Afghans why foreign troops needed to be in the country, due to messages that were constantly shifting and sometimes culturally insensitive…

Read on.