Small Wars Journal

Focus on the Taliban

A recommendation by COL Dave Maxwell: The Taliban in Their Own Words - Sami Yousafzai and Ron Moreau, Newsweek.

During wars and after them, the real voice of the enemy is rarely heard. Propaganda is plentiful, as are prideful boasts - and the Taliban have certainly been quick studies at the modern art of information warfare. But the fears and ambitions of ordinary fighters are too often buried under statistics and theories propounded from thousands of miles away. That's been even more true in Iraq and Afghanistan, where reporters who might accurately convey the other side's perspective are at risk of being kidnapped or killed for their efforts.

After eight long years of war in Afghanistan, however, America and its allies can ill afford not to understand who the enemy is and why they fight. To put together this remarkable oral history, told through the words of the Taliban themselves, Newsweek turned to contributing correspondent Sami Yousafzai, who has been covering the conflict for the magazine since 2001. Over that time he has developed and maintained contact with dozens of Afghan insurgents, including the six whose stories are told here.

Working with Newsweek's Ron Moreau, Yousafzai spent more than a month crisscrossing Afghanistan and Pakistan to meet these sources. He has known them all for some time, and in the past their information has generally proved reliable. Their accounts may sometimes be self-serving - most Afghan civilians recall the Taliban regime far less fondly, for one thing - but the facts are consistent with what Yousafzai knows about the men from earlier reporting. While it's impossible to confirm the credibility of everything they say, their stories offer a rare chance to understand how the insurgents see this war, from the collapse of the Taliban, through their revival and, now, their budding ascendancy...

Much more at Newsweek.

Diverse Sources Fund Insurgency In Afghanistan - Craig Whitlock, Washington Post.

The Taliban-led insurgency has built a fundraising juggernaut that generates cash from such an array of criminal rackets, donations, taxes, shakedowns and other schemes that US and Afghan officials say it may be impossible to choke off the movement's money supply.

Obama administration officials say the single largest source of cash for the Taliban, once thought to rely mostly on Afghanistan's booming opium trade to finance its operations, is not drugs but foreign donations. The CIA recently estimated that Taliban leaders and their allies received $106 million in the past year from donors outside Afghanistan...

More at The Washington Post.

McChrystal Says Insurgents Are Winning Communications Battle - Walter Pincus, Washington Post.

The United States and its allies in Afghanistan must "wrest the information initiative" from the Taliban and other insurgent groups that have undermined the credibility of the Kabul government and its international backers, according to the top US and NATO commander in the country. "The information domain is a battlespace," Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal wrote in an assessment made public on Monday, adding that the allies need to "take aggressive actions to win the important battle of perception."

As an initial step, McChrystal wants to change the goal of public relations efforts in Afghanistan from a "struggle for the 'hearts and minds' of the Afghan population to one of giving them 'trust and confidence' " in themselves and their government. At the same time, he said, more effort should be made to "discredit and diminish insurgents and their extremist allies' capability to influence attitudes and behavior in Afghanistan." One way to accomplish that, McChrystal wrote, is to target insurgent networks "to disrupt and degrade" their effectiveness. Another is to expose what he calls the insurgents' "flagrant contravention of the principles of the Koran," including indiscriminate use of violence and terrorism, and attacks on schools and development projects...

More at The Washington Post.


Paul Voelke (not verified)

Tue, 09/29/2009 - 11:25pm

This is a great example of how the Afghanistan campaign has been under-resourced. The United States figured out how to effectively communicate in Iraq. Why hasn't that success led to success in Afghanistan?
There are two reasons: first, the US forces in Afghanistan have never had a commander who placed as high a priority upon communicating as General Petraeus did in Iraq; and secondly, the coalition in Afghanistan has never devoted the resources to the effort, as MNF-I did in 2007-2008.
US Joint Forces Command published a Commander's Handbook for Strategic Communication in September 2008 (, which devotes a good portion of its "Best Practices" chapter to the efforts in Iraq 2007-2008.
It's clear that General McChrystal understands the importance of communication- his words here and his actions in the wake of the recent air strike involving stolen fuel tankers demonstrate this.
The issue will be to successfully adapt lessons learned from Iraq to Afghanistan.