EDITORIAL: A kinder, gentler Taliban

Terrorist propaganda can’t hide murderous strategy

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The Taliban can’t stop killing the people they supposedly are trying to help. A new directive from leader Mullah Omar instructs Taliban fighters to go easy on Afghan civilians. On Monday, however, five Afghan children fell victim to Taliban suicide bombs. Apparently, Islamist guerrillas believe they have to destroy kids in order to save them.

The Taliban “layeha,” or rule book, says, “All efforts must be made to avoid harming civilians in attacks.” In this battle for hearts and minds, the Taliban are failing miserably. A June Congressional Research Service report showed that from December 2009 to March 2010, 737 Afghan civilians were killed and 979 were wounded in the ongoing conflict. Two-thirds of these casualties were the result of Taliban actions, up from 59 percent in 2009. Of those killed by the Taliban, 78 percent of the deaths were caused by indiscriminate attacks by improvised explosive devices (IEDs), an insurgent weapon of choice.

According to Pentagon sources, since July 27 - when news broke of the release of Mullah Omar’s new directive - the Taliban have slain 43 Afghan noncombatants and wounded 65. Data collected by the International Security Assistance Force show that in July, there were nearly 300 insurgent acts of violence and oppression against Afghan civilians. This includes more than 160 murders and injuries and more than 100 cases of various types of coercion, including extortion, prohibiting girls from attending school and destroying development projects. Over that same period, the Taliban killed 220 civilians and injured more than 360.

The new Taliban layeha is the latest in a series of useless instructions. In 2006, Mullah Omar directed his followers not to rob civilians, not to maltreat people who wanted to help the movement, not to smoke and not to take “young boys without beards” into their homes. In May 2009, the “Rules for Mujahedeen” field manual directed fighters to take steps to avoid killing noncombatants, limit the use of suicide bombing and not torture or kill prisoners without the expressed permission of higher authorities. None of these directives appears to be catching on.

Previous orders counseled sparing all civilians, but the new directive explicitly orders insurgents to “capture and kill any Afghan who is supporting and/or working for coalition forces or the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan,” including women. In this way, the Taliban can write off many of their innocent victims as “collaborators” and the rest as “martyrs to the jihad.”

The new guidebook is as much a propaganda tool as a means of imposing battlefield discipline. Guerrillas and terrorists always portray themselves as the friends of the people, particularly to credulous outsiders who may help rally international opinion to their cause. This is the basis of their legitimacy, claiming to represent the popular struggle against a corrupt, illegitimate regime propped up by foreign forces.

Propaganda aside, brutalizing the population is a key Taliban tactic. They are not a “popular front” but an armed extremist fringe group that imposes control by terror. This was evident during the period when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan. Even minor violations of their bizarre, extremist Islamist creed were punished by torture and death. For them to attempt to portray themselves as friends of the Afghan people requires the world to forget the charnel house that was Afghanistan in the 1990s and ignore the Taliban’s ongoing brutality. Mullah Omar’s order to his fighters to respect the rights of Afghan civilians is about as believable as if he ordered them to accept Jesus as their lord and savior.

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