The Taliban and Twitter: Tactical Reporting and Strategic Messaging

Vincent Bernatis

Abstract


The US military’s surge in Afghanistan from 2009 through 2012 was designed to blunt Taliban momentum and ultimately allow international forces to significantly reduce their presence and transition full responsibility for security to the Afghan government by 2015. In May of 2011, near the height of the surge, the Taliban leadership countered the international coalition by opening a distinct new front in their asymmetric battle; one waged not with bullets and bombs, but with regular English language posts on Twitter. This article utilizes public relations and communications theory to analyze a sample of these Tweets alongside Mullah Omar’s yearly Eid messages. In doing so, the argument is made that Taliban information operations on both the tactical and strategic levels promoted a narrative of the conflict designed to weaken the international public’s resolve to actively oppose the Taliban through a long-term deployment of primarily Western military forces to the country. For policymakers, the Taliban’s own chronicling of the war on social media indicates that insurgent forces are not nearly as capable of waging a jihad across all regions of the country as they might wish to be, nor are they in command of a large network of infiltrators willing and able to attack their international trainers and Afghan military partners on command. Academically, the Taliban’s use of Twitter reinforces other research showing that even in the more diffuse, less restrictive atmosphere of social media, the leadership of armed Islamist groups often attempt to exert control over internet-based information operations through the establishment of official social media accounts.


 



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ENHANCING SECURITY THROUGH COLLABORATIVE RESEARCH

Perspectives on Terrorism is  a journal of the Terrorism Research Initiative and the Center for Terrorism and Security Studies

ISSN  2334-3745 (Online)

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