As part of an apparent strategy by the Afghan Taliban to broaden their online reach by using social media websites1, the organization has created several accounts on Twitter, the user-generated realtime updating platform.
One is the Afghan Taliban's official Pashto-language Twitter page, alemarahweb, which is updated several times a day to provide updates linking to full communiqués and articles on the Taliban's official website, http:alemarah-iea.net. In addition to serving as a platform for the Taliban to distribute information to supporters in Afghanistan and around the world, utilizing social networking sites permits the group to follow the activities of their opponents. Interestingly, the Taliban's Twitter account is listed as an official follower of accounts linked to American and British soldiers as well as a number of Afghan charities and news organizations.
Created in late 2010, the Taliban Twitter page, located at twitter.com/#!/alemarahweb, has generated almost 500 messages since the first tweet was posted on December 19. Connecting the Taliban's official website and their Twitter account, the Taliban webmaster implemented a system that uses Twitterfeed, a program that automatically updates a Twitter account to reflect website or blog updates. For instance, the program tweeted twenty-two updates from February 14 through 18, 2011. Among these messages was a February 15, 2011 claim of responsibility for destroy eight supply trucks in the town of Maidan in Wardak province using remote-controlled explosives; a February 16, 2011 claim of responsibility for launching a grenade attack on an American base in Helmand province, which the Taliban claimed killed and wounded three soldiers; and a February 18, 2011 message claiming responsibility for detonating an IED against vehicles of the Afghan army that resulted in the destruction of the two vehicles and deaths of five Afghan soldiers in the Behsod district of Nangarhar province. The Twitter feed additionally featured a February 17, 2011 update claiming to have killed four American soldiers and destroyed an armored vehicle in an IED attack taking place at about 9:00 pm in the evening in the Sokai district of Kunar province.
Although the account has 5 dedicated followers, the content of their Twitter feed is not passwordprotected, and thus accessible to anyone who is interested in following the Afghan Taliban. A nonpassword protected distribution platform, Twitter allows the organization to reach individuals who do not have memberships on the restricted access Arabic-language forums where most jihadist communiqués are distributed.
Collecting Intelligence through Twitter.com
In addition to contacting their supporters, Taliban officials may use Twitter.com as a tool to collect intelligence information about the activities of their enemies in Afghan. Twitter allows users to “follow” other users, giving the follower automatic updates of new messages from the users they follow. Notably, the Taliban's Twitter account “follows” nine other Twitter accounts, among which are Twitter feeds associated with American military personal and a British military charity, thus allowing the Taliban to derive intelligence from the users' posts.
One of the nine accounts followed by the Afghan Taliban is the Twitter site of an American soldier in Afghanistan working as a United States Air Force Logistics Officer. The soldier posted over a thousand updates from his second deployment in Afghanistan using the name “Afghantim”.2
The Taliban are one of nearly 2,000 followers of Afghantim's Twitter account, which provided neardaily updates from May 10, 2010 through November 9, 2010 detailing his deployment in Afghanistan as well as his work mentoring members of the Afghan National Army. Although the Afghantim Twitter feed largely documents personal information and exchanges with friends, the feed frequently links to his weblog, afghantim.blogspot.com. Blog posts included information about his daily activities and his work training counterparts in the Afghan National Army as well as photographs from inside the military bases and the logistics warehouses.
The owner of Afghantim.blogspot.com has featured images of his Afghan counterpart, shown below in a picture uploaded on October 21, 2010:
On October 9, 2010 his uploaded four images to his blog featuring the layout and content of the base's supply warehouse after finishing with inventory, such as the following:
Also among the nine pages that the Taliban's Twitter account follow is for “AfghanHeroesUK”,3 a charity created to support the British Joint Forces serving in Afghanistan. Many of the posts made by AfghanHeroesUK announces the deaths of British soldiers, such as tweets on February 14, 2011 announcing the death of Private Conrad Lewis in Afghanistan and a tweet on February 17, 2011 announcing the death of Private Robert Wood.
1For more coverage, see “Social Network Jihad: Taliban Propaganda on Facebook (Part 1)” and “Social Network Jihad: Taliban on YouTube (Part 1) - Mujahideen-e-Islam Channel”