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 favor 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 dictates include bans on suicide bombings against civilians, burning down schools, or cutting off ears, lips and tongues.
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, capitalizing 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. [continued…]
A $300 million power plant in Afghanistan paid for with U.S. tax dollars was an ill-conceived and mismanaged project that the Afghan government can’t afford to switch on now that it’s almost finished, a watchdog agency has found.
The project in Kabul has ballooned $40 million over budget and is a year behind schedule because of missteps by the American contractors and the U.S. government, according to an audit released Wednesday by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
If the plant ever runs to full capacity, it could provide tens of thousands of Afghans in the Kabul region with electricity, which would be an achievement in a country in which only 10 percent of the population has it.
Even when the plant is completed in March, however, the Afghan government is unlikely to be able to pay the millions of dollars for diesel fuel that’s needed to power the plant and maintain it, the auditors concluded. The U.S. Agency for International Development has agreed to pay for the fuel temporarily. [continued…]