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Taliban soften image to win allies

world Updated: Jan 21, 2010 23:44 IST

The Taliban have embarked on a sophisticated information war, using modern media tools as well as some old-fashioned ones, to soften their image and win favour with local Afghans as they try to counter the Americans’ new campaign to win Afghan hearts and minds.

The Taliban’s spiritual leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, issued a lengthy directive late last spring outlining a new code of conduct for the Taliban.

The code, which has been spottily enforced, does not necessarily mean a gentler insurgency. Although the Taliban warned some civilians away before the assault on the heart of Kabul on Monday, they were still responsible for three-quarters of civilian casualties last year, according to the United Nations.

Now, as the Taliban deepen their presence in more of Afghanistan, they are in greater need of popular support and are recasting themselves increasingly as a local liberation movement, independent of Al Qaeda, capitalising on the mounting frustration of Afghans with their own government and the presence of foreign troops.

The effect has been to make them a more potent insurgency, some NATO officials said.

Afghan villagers and some NATO officials added that the code had begun to change the way some midlevel Taliban commanders and their followers behaved on the ground.

A couple of the most brutal commanders have even been removed by Mullah Omar.

The New York Times