Two major incidents of Taliban-Haqqani information operations in the past week have proven that the terrorist network, with the help of Pakistan, is still winning the war of words. Those words unfortunately have a major effect on the ability of the world to stop the massive human rights violations and war crimes those terrorists are inflicting on Afghans.

Terrorists Learned from #sanctionPakistan

The first major information operations influencing operation was in response to the recent banning of some Taliban-Haqqani accounts by Meta. Human rights activists inside and outside Afghanistan quickly pushed Twitter to also remove Taliban-Haqqani terrorist accounts from their social media service. They used the hashtag #banTaliban and it quickly went viral in Afghanistan and around the world.

The response from Taliban-Haqqani accounts and their supporters was much faster than before, and it was amplified around the world. The terrorists and terrorism supporters used the hashtag (Afghans Support Taliban) to counter #BanTaliban. This was a major shift from the slow response to the previous #sanctionPakistan effort to get nations to punish Pakistan for their terrorism support in Afghanistan.

This time the Taliban-Haqqani network and their massive support team in Pakistan and America responded forcefully and within a couple days had managed to push their pro-Taliban hashtag from over 4,000 accounts to double the trend of the #banTaliban hashtag. The extensive use of Urdu language (Pakistan’s major language) was critical to the rapid spread of the pro-Taliban influence operation.

The analysis of the pro-Taliban influence operation, to keep terrorists active on social media, revealed a few disturbing facts. First, more than a third of the accounts that were supporting the Taliban-Haqqani effort were located in the United States. Second, the account that shared the hashtag the most was a fake one that is related to the major influence operations around the time of the fall of Kabul last year.

Taliban-Haqqani Leaders Continue to Steal Legitimacy from Diplomats

The second Taliban-Haqqani success in verbal warfare, came as a result of this week’s Tashkent Conference on Afghanistan. Here the world’s Special Envoys to Afghanistan gathered to meet with the Taliban-Haqqani terrorist network and discuss key issues. As the EU Special Envoy noted his aim was to show the Taliban-Haqqani leaders that the world was united in their calls for human rights protections for all Afghans, and especially for the opening of all schools to all girls and women.

The instant result of the conference was exactly the opposite. Immediately Taliban and Haqqani leaders began to publicly restate that they will never be moved by foreign demands. They further stated that they were at the conference to demand the world recognize them as the legitimate government, and to force the US to unfreeze all remaining financial assets.

The Taliban-Haqqani influence operation machine quickly used the conference to spread lies. The most important lie for them was to report that at the conference the Special Envoys repeatedly referred to the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” as the official government of Afghanistan. This is the goal of every diplomatic engagement of the Taliban-Haqqani regime, to steal more and more legitimacy from the people they meet and place it on themselves.

Although numerous diplomats tried to correct the record by tweeting that they did not use the term “Islamic Emirate” or “official government” to describe the terrorists, the damage was already done. Most of the diplomats have social media followers that are less than a tenth of the following of the terrorist propagandists. As usual, the lie moves farther and faster than any truth can hope to.

The lesson from this week is clear: the international community continues to place zero emphasis on the power of information operations and counter-propaganda. This was the case during the 20-year NATO operation in Afghanistan, and it only gets worse each week. Diplomats must come to terms with their shortcomings and bring communications experts onto the teams to ensure every activity leads to the best result. The Taliban-Haqqani network is growing stronger in their best line of effort, and their support network is getting better training and funding, likely from Pakistan and their “Iron Brother” China.

 

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Jason spent 23 years in USG service conducting defense, diplomacy, intelligence, and education missions globally. Now he teaches, writes, podcasts, and speaks publicly about Islam, foreign affairs, and national security. He is a member of the Military Writers Guild, works with numerous non-profits and aids conflict resolution in Afghanistan.