Afghan intelligence officials have started the month by announcing an unprecedented and outrageous ban on live news coverage of on-going Taliban attacks. The Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) agency has declared that journalists who film Taliban assaults will be detained and have their gear seized.
The Afghan government justifies the ban by saying "Live coverage does not benefit the government, but benefits the enemies of Afghanistan" — i.e., it emboldens the Taliban. Yes, they are talking about the same Taliban that routinely distributes their own videos showing kidnap victims pleading for their lives, beheadings, and what they purport to be their own battlefield victories.
In contrast, professional journalists will now only be allowed to film only the aftermath of attacks, when given permission by the agency, and only after each incident is formally investigated by police and intelligence elements.
This is patent nonsense. In a world upside down it will be reporters who are arrested on the battlefield, not the jihadists guilty of using civilians as human shields, murdering their own countrymen, and instigating firefights against NATO forces and our own American soldiers within plain sight.
What the ban really does has nothing to do with emboldening the enemy. Rather it ensures that the Western world, and the people of Afghanistan, will not be able to see the Taliban in context – in effect, under the new ban only NATO and US forces can be filmed responding to attacks — thus shifting attention away from Taliban atrocities and making the good guys look like monsters.
The Taliban and al Qaeda know that their most effective weapon is the media, and they have manipulated media reporting very successfully to their advantage. This ban is their check-mate, winning move within their critically important propaganda war.
The announcement drew harsh criticism, especially from Afghan media. "We see this as direct censorship. This is prevention of reporting and contravenes the constitution," said Rahimullah Samandar, the head of Afghanistan’s Independent Journalists’ Association.
Indeed, this can be seen in a greater perspective as a deliberate attempt to shield the public of knowledge of Taliban atrocities – particularly the movement’s frequent use of civilians as human shields in firefights and it’s long record of staging incidents to appear as if caused by NATO forces rather than their own violation of laws of land warfare.
Such a policy is consistent with recent condemnations by President Hamid KarzaiÂ’s government to blame NATO forces immediately and harshly for any and all civilian casualties as if it were a disinterested spectator in a war that has propped up the venal government since 2002.
Inexplicable, perhaps, has been the alacrity with which US officials have fallen into Karzai’s game. The plethora of apologies emerging from the International Security Assistance Force after each accusation – regardless of whether facts of the incident have even been brought to light – only encourages the Taliban and al Qaeda to pursue more such actions, and makes Karzai appear to sit on the moral high ground.
The net result is that battlefield victories evaporate in the greater war – the war for public opinion. Taliban thugs become "freedom fighters" while US and NATO soldiers are painted as heartless aggressors.
The Karzai government is playing a dangerous game; such gamesmanship is the bread-and-butter of Afghani warlords.