US to fight Taliban with FM radio, cell phones

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Lahore, Aug.17 (ANI): The United States is setting up a new unit in the State Department to counter militant propaganda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the New York Times has reported.

According to the NYT report, the team may get up to 150 million dollars a year to spend on local FM radio stations and on expanded cell phone service in the area.

The project would also step up the training of local journalists and help produce audio and video programmes, pamphlets, posters and CDs.

US President Barack Obama's Special Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, will direct the effort.

The team he is putting together will direct the flow of information in support of American policy. It is variously called public affairs, public diplomacy, strategic communications and information operations.

Vikram Singh, on loan from the Pentagon as Holbrooke's senior defence adviser for the project, said the United States would begin by "building the capabilities of the private sectors and the governments in both countries to effectively communicate and engage with their own populations."

The new campaign is focused largely on providing cell phone service. It is a booming industry:

Afghanistan had no cellular phones in 2001, and today it has about 9.5 million subscribers.

Rear Adm Gregory Smith, NATO's director of communication in Kabul, says the challenge is to protect the population and the official communications network from insurgents.

"If we can insulate the people, separate the population from insurgents, they become less vulnerable and less susceptible to the coercion and intimidation."

Proposals to counter insurgent threats include establishing security for cell phone towers by offering local communities money, electricity or free service to guard the towers - even erecting cell phone towers on allied military bases.

Expanding and securing cell phone service has the additional benefit of assisting economic development, officials said.

Officials involved in the new unit say they are seeking to amplify the voices of Afghans speaking to Afghans, and Pakistanis speaking to Pakistanis, rather than "Made in the USA" programming.

According to the Daily Times, the unit would also counter the primary routes of extremist communications, in particular low-power radio stations and the distribution of videos, CDs and "night letters" that threaten violence if locals cooperate with the government or America. (ANI)

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