US, Taliban engaged in public relations one upmanship, says CSM report

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Washington, May 14 (ANI): The US administration is using another medium to hit back at the Taliban - public relations.

According to a Christian Science Monitor (CSM) report, more than a week has passed since a United States bombardment killed civilians in western Afghanistan, but the battle between coalition forces and the Taliban has only intensified on another front: public relations.

Civilian deaths caused by US, NATO, and Afghan operations - which, according to the United Nations, topped 800 last year - have long provoked public fury that the Taliban can exploit. But in response, the US has also begun to control the message, often by providing a counter-narrative or admitting responsibility.

Last Monday's controversial airstrike in Farah Province killed some 140 villagers, according to Afghan officials. If correct, that would constitute the largest case of civilian deaths since 2001. The attack provoked outbursts of street violence and chants of anti-American slogans.

But the US countered that a "number" of people had died in the engagement - and it blamed the Taliban for using people as human shields.

The controversy then worsened when it emerged over the weekend that chemical weapons may have been used in the clash. The US military rejected that claim and went on the offensive Monday, when Col. Greg Julian, the top spokesman in Afghanistan, alleged that Taliban militants have employed white phosphorus - a highly flammable material that causes severe burns - at least four times in Afghanistan over the past two years.

Just hours later, another spokesperson highlighted 44 documented cases where militants in Afghanistan may have used the chemical in mortar attacks and homemade bombs, most recently in an attack last Thursday on a NATO outpost in Logar Province just south of Kabul.

One component of this strategy, according to British defense analyst Tim Foxley, is "to challenge the Taliban to explain their actions and intent," while promoting a grassroots discussion of "the Taliban's legitimacy, their interpretation of Islam, what constitutes a jihad, and the morality of killing civilians."

The Pentagon has reportedly launched a broad "psychological operations" campaign in Afghanistan and Pakistan to take down insurgent-run websites and the jam radio stations dominate the airwaves in backcountry areas.

The Army is also rewriting its information operations manual. The new document, set to be released later this year, will give greater authority to battlefield commanders to make communications decisions on the spot - rather than senior officers far from the action - to counter Taliban attempts to stage deaths and then circulate fabricated videos.

The coalition forces have a weekly call-in radio program, "Ask ISAF," where Afghans can directly present their questions and concerns to officers.

The Afghan government, meanwhile, has opened a 1.2 million dollar media center staffed by Western-trained PR specialists. The facility includes a hi-tech media monitoring wing and an outreach department to build better working relations with journalists. (ANI)

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