- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Taliban insurgents are using Facebook, YouTube and more recently Twitter to try to recruit terrorists and incite terrorist attacks, U.S. military officials say.

The increasing use of the Internet and cellular telephones with access to the Web is a relatively new feature of life in Afghanistan, and military officials say the Taliban are exploiting the new social-media platforms for their Islamist aims.

“Overall, it’s probably too early to talk about trends, but I would say the Taliban, just like the rest of the world, are trying to use social media to achieve their aims,” said Lt. Col. T.G. Taylor, a U.S. Central Command spokesman. “How effective they are remains to be seen.”

A defense official said U.S. intelligence agencies that monitor the Internet for terrorist activity in the past have detected Taliban insurgents and other violent extremists using social media. When that happens, Central Command is notified, and, in the past, the command has contacted outlets like Facebook and Twitter, urging them to halt terrorist recruitment or inciting violent attacks noting that it violates their terms of service.

Facebook has been the most responsive, deleting some accounts of Taliban insurgents or those posing as Taliban.

In Afghanistan, the use of Facebook is the most prevalent form of social media among many Afghans who use the service to contact family members and associates, to share Internet links and to post status reports, photos, videos and comments.

Along with the general population, Afghan insurgents and jihadists now are using social media such as Facebook and more recently Twitter, officials said.

The International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, the military command that is in charge of information operations against the Taliban, has been very concerned about the terrorists’ use of social media.

Military officials say the Taliban have proven to be an adaptable enemy and are now using cyberspace as a new battlefield.

In addition to recruitment, the Taliban use social media to provide information, including false and misleading “disinformation,” to various audiences both domestically and internationally.

In some cases, the Taliban’s use of social media has outpaced that of NATO and U.S. forces, which have been struggling to wage effective information-warfare campaigns against the Islamist insurgents.

The military is trying to balance the need to gather intelligence from such media and cellphones with efforts to prevent the enemy from recruiting more fighters or influencing populations, a defense official said.

“A balance has to be struck, not just with Twitter, but especially with cellphones,” said the official. “If we hear Bad Guy A talking to Bad Guy B, do we let them have the conversation and listen, or do we shut it down and not let them talk?”

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