Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
When almost 500 insurgents crawled their way to freedom this week through a dirt tunnel built by the Taliban under the walls of Kandahar’s main jail, news came fast — from the Taliban.
And when an Afghan Air Force pilot shot dead eight American troops and a civilian contractor at Kabul airport on Wednesday, the earliest guide to what would be the eventual casualty count came also from the Taliban, hours ahead of NATO confirmations.
The insurgency seems to be making a concerted effort to improve the quality of its breaking news communications, perhaps recognising that the first word often hits hardest.
And NATO, with its vast resources and innumberable media advisers, is struggling to keep up.
The insurgency in the past has always cloaked its victories in hyperbole, making nonsensical claims of enemies killed or wounded, destroying the credibility of the message.
It still does.
But with the mass escape Kandahar, which itself seemed too fantastical to believe at first, the claims in unusually clear English of more than 500 fighters freed proved very close to the eventual security forces mark of around 488.
And while it’s still uncertain how the insurgency knew of the pilot’s attack inside the military airport (was someone actually watching?), their early numbers for those killed were far closer than ISAF’s.
NATO’s vast media machine feeds out a daily diet of the mundane, and at times vies with the Taliban for Orwellian claims. Try this selection of recent headlines:
* “Attack on Ministry of Defence is no threat to transition. Despite public skepticism in light of the insurgent attack on the Afghan Ministry of Defense on Monday, MoD and International Security Assistance Force spokesmen say everything is on track for transition to begin.
* “Taliban attacked on multiple fronts. As Taliban fighters increasingly intimidate and launch attacks on civilian populations, village elders and residents, known as Guardians of Peace, are reporting insurgent activities to the Afghan National Security Forces, Afghanistan’s True Protectors.”
* “The first step towards a great cooperation. The first-ever Public Affairs meeting of Herat city was held today afternoon at Regional Command-West Headquarters at Camp Arena.”
Buts ISAF’s unwillingness to provide timely information on attacks means it is the Taliban’s voice that is often heard first in early stories. NATO information often comes late in the day or even at night, well behind the news cycle.
NATO claims often in its daily operational roundups to have killed Taliban or al Qaeda “facilitators”, a bizarrely vague description for insurgent organisers and weapons suppliers.
But as the conflict in Afghanistan intensifies ahead of a transition to full Afghan security control from 2014, a little more media facilitation of its own would not go astray to help build international confidence in the course of the war.