While the Sunni extremist group banned television, radio and newspapers during its original reign over Afghanistan in the 1990s, it has proven extremely adept at using social media to spread its message, and propaganda, in its more recent campaign against the US and its Kabul government allies.
The Taliban* has released a bizarre photo that seems explicitly intended to mock America.
The image, released by the militants’ elite Badri 313 Battalion, shows fighters in US-made gear planting the white and black flag of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the self-proclaimed Taliban government), with their pose reminiscent of the iconic World War II-era photo of US soldiers raising an American flag at Iwo Jima.
The Iwo Jima photo is highly revered among Americans, and has been replicated in the Marine Corps War memorial in Arlington, Virginia. It won the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for Photography, and has been memorialized in films, songs, coins, stamps, statutes and other media over the decades, serving as a reminder of the bloody US island-hopping campaign against Japanese forces in the Pacific theater.
The Taliban deployed the Badri 313 Battalion in Kabul this week after entering the Afghan capital on Sunday. Militants have released a propaganda video featuring the fighters dramatically running in slow motion to music and patrolling the streets, armed with US-made M4 rifles, riding around in machinegun turret equipped Humvees, wearing US-issue bullet-proof vests and helmets, and slick Oakley sunglasses. The look is a far cry from the turban, robes, long beards and flip flops that have become the iconic image of the Taliban in the Western subconscious over the decades.
The United States provided Afghan security forces with $28 billion in weaponry between 2002 and 2017, with virtually all of this equipment now feared to have fallen into the Taliban’s hands.
American social media users expressed outrage over the Iwo Jima-style photoshoot, slamming both the Taliban and the Biden administration, calling the image “humiliating” and demanding that the president “resign or be impeached and removed” over the Afghanistan fiasco.
Outwardly, the Taliban that entered Kabul last Sunday appears to be very different from the group which ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s and sought to return the country to the 7th century. Mainstream Western media have characterized today’s Taliban as the “Taliban 2.0,” pointing to its tech and media-savy nature and ability to use modern Western technologies against the “infidels.” The group has extensively used social media including Twitter and Facebook to spread its message, has mastered the art of mobile videography and digital photography, and gotten the hang of other technologies.
US media including Bloomberg and Politico speculate that the Taliban of today will not seek to do away with modern technology now that they are in power, citing its importance in spreading its message and propaganda, and given its desire to win over recognition (or at least de facto recognition) from the international community.
Facebook, WhatsApp and Google recently promised to remove all Taliban-related accounts and content. However, Twitter has so far allowed the group to continue operating on its platform, so long as they don’t violate its rules on hate speech and violent content, with the group’s militia units, spokesmen and media accounts racking up hundreds of thousands of followers. Some Americans have expressed outrage at what they say is the blatant hypocrisy of allowing a group which has killed US troops and promised to dramatically curb women’s rights to access Twitter at the same time that former president Donald Trump has been permanently banned from all social media.