Taliban Disinformation Campaigns?

Taliban
Taliban Spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid

Summary

Now Taliban have achieved their objective of reconquering Afghanistan, they will use their refined information warfare strategies in an effort to maintain their power. Therefore, it is almost certain that the Taliban will continue to use disinformation campaigns to build their international legitimacy. However, due to the worsening economic situation in the country it is highly likely that they will also use domestically targeted disinformation campaigns to suppress internal dissent. If the economic situation continues to worsen to point of mass starvation, it is also highly likely that they will begin presenting the West as responsible for the humanitarian crisis.

Key Judgement 1

It is almost certain that Taliban disinformation campaigns online will attempt to build a positive image abroad over the next 3 months.

  • During the 20-year insurgency the Taliban refined their information warfare strategies, and began producing English language material online, which became a central factor in the development of their international legitimacy.

  • Now the primary objective of the Taliban is to remain in power, requiring them to maintain recognition of their government’s legitimacy internationally.

  • Since their victory, the Taliban have operated a disinformation campaign through social media and official channels, to present the unity of Afghans under their leadership and their positive governing efforts.

  • By building their international legitimacy, the Taliban increase the likelihood of receiving aid and having their assets unfrozen.

Key Judgement 2

It is highly likely that the Taliban will increase their use domestically targeted disinformation campaigns to suppress internal dissent over the next 3 months

  • The Taliban’s information warfare strategies were also essential in their rapid seizure of Afghanistan following the US withdrawal, giving them considerable experience in conducting effective domestically targeted disinformation campaigns.

  • It is estimated that by 2018, 40% of households in Afghanistan had internet access and 90% had mobile device access, making social media an effective tool for the Taliban to widely propagate information.

  • On the official Taliban website, Al Emarah, they have already begun to denounce ‘so-called intellectuals’ for attempting to corrupt the youth with ‘foreign’ values.

  • The current threat of a humanitarian crisis has created the conditions for the emergence of popular discontent amongst the Afghan population.

Key Judgement 3

It is highly likely that the Taliban will use disinformation campaigns to present Western governments as responsible for the impending humanitarian crisis over the next 3 months.

  • Following the Taliban’s reconquest of Afghanistan, nearly half the country’s GDP of $20 Billion has been stripped due to international sanctions against the regime. Moreover, over $9 Billion of Afghanistan’s assets in overseas bank reserves have been frozen by the United States.
  • As a result of these punitive financial measures, the Afghan economy is expected to contract by 30% within months and the UN estimates that currently 24.4 million Afghans are in humanitarian need.
  • Despite current Taliban disinformation campaigns attempting to deny the imminent humanitarian crisis to their domestic audience, they will be unable to uphold such a campaign amidst mass starvation.
  • There have been indications that there is a shift in the Taliban’s information strategy, with leading officials stating that the asset freezes substantiate their claims of the West’s cruelty.
Ethan Lierens
Ethan Lierens
Ethan is a graduate in History and Politics from the University of Exeter. Following his bachelor’s degree he completed a master’s degree in Intelligence and International Security at King’s College London. His research focuses are disinformation campaigns, post-soviet politics and conflict in the Middle East. Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ethan-lloyd-lierens-31a2b4154

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