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US fights Taliban on another front: public relations

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Just hours later, another spokesperson highlighted 44 documented cases where militants in Afghanistan may have used the chemical in mortar attacks and homemade bombs, most recently in an attack last Thursday on a NATO outpost in Logar Province just south of Kabul.

Key tactic: be first to comment

Homayoun Shuaid, a journalist based in Kandahar, says that when he called Qazi Yusuf Ahmadi, the militants' southern spokesman, to get a reaction on the US claims, they were dismissed as a "bunch of lies and propaganda."

"It's usually the other way around," with the US rejecting Taliban reports, says Mr. Shuaid.

After an attack or errant US airstrike, Taliban representatives usually text message or e-mail reports to him "within minutes," giving their version of what happened, Shuaid continues.

Their claims are almost always exaggerated, he says. But because they arrive first, he says, they take on the currency of truth among a populace that receives most of its information via radio or word of mouth.

Eight years after the fundamentalist movement enforced a ban on television, the Taliban has developed a fast, coordinated media apparatus that has eroded public support for nationbuilding, according to a July report by the International Crisis Group, even though active support for the insurgents remains low.

"This does not mean the people believe everything [Taliban operatives] say. But given the weakness of the government and missteps of the international community, it feeds into a climate of suspicion and potential alienation," says the author of the report, Joanna Nathan.

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