- The Washington Times - Friday, July 25, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) | The Taliban have created a sophisticated media network to undermine support for the Afghan government, sending threats by text message and spreading the militia’s views through songs available as ring tones, according to a report released Thursday.

The report from the International Crisis Group comes as the Islamist militia that was ousted from power in Afghanistan by the 2001 U.S.-led invasion is making a violent comeback, particularly in the country’s south and east.

The Taliban’s propaganda exploits civilian killings by foreign forces and corruption in the U.S.-backed government to add to Afghans’ disillusionment about their lives, says the report by the Brussels-based group.

Many of the messages that have been distributed - apparently not always directly produced by the Taliban - come in the form of songs, religious chants and poetry that appeal to Afghan nationalism and Islamic pride.

Some of the tunes are available as ring tones for phones, and cassettes include songs such as “Let Me Go to Jihad,” the report said. Some people reported that they kept the cassettes as a form of protection in case they were stopped by Taliban fighters.

One poem, “Death Is a gift,” included the phrase, “I will not kiss the hand of Laura Bush.”

The Taliban movement also has a Web site, Al Emarah, or theEmirate, which has various domain names because of attempts to block it. The Taliban also publish pamphlets and magazines, and their communications come in multiple languages including English. DVDs and audio cassettes also are used.

Because illiteracy is widespread in Afghanistan, and many Afghans have little to no access to the Internet or TV, the Taliban also use traditional means of communication to spread their message. They often send shabnamahs - fliers that are often distributed at night in an area. Often the letters threaten people who work with international forces or the government, the report said.

The report also said that Taliban media play up civilian casualties caused by foreign forces but deny involvement in most bombings that kill a large number of ordinary Afghans. Because of the poor security situation, independent journalists often have a difficult time verifying claims of either side.

Obeidullah Jan, a Barekzai tribal leader from Dand district in Kandahar province, said the Taliban had tremendous influence on local media and that journalists in the area often reported their claims. But even if the Taliban had no media outreach, their impact - from suicide attacks to gunbattles - is hard to miss, he said.

“Whether they use the media or not, the people are witnessing their activities,” Mr. Jan said.

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