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U.S. military, Taliban use Twitter to wage war


December 19, 2011 - Kabul

U.S. military officials assigned to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have been waging the 140-word Twitter as a medium to wage a broadside against the Taliban.

"How much longer will terrorists put innocent Afghans in harm's way," @isafmedia demanded of the Taliban spokesman on the second day of the September 14 embassy attack, in which militants lobbed rockets and sprayed gunfire from a building under construction.

"I dnt knw. U hve bn pttng thm n 'harm's way fr da pst 10 yrs. Razd whole vilgs n mrkts. n stil hv da nrve to tlk bout 'harm's way," responded Abdulqahar Balkhi, one of the Taliban's Twitter warriors, who uses the handle @ABalkhi.

The running spat appears to be the sole open line of communication between Americans and the Taliban after exploratory peace talks collapsed earlier this year, the Washington Post reports.

U.S. military officials say the dramatic assault on the diplomatic compound convinced them that they needed to seize the propaganda initiative - and that in Twitter, they had a tool at hand that could shape the narrative much more quickly than press releases or responses to individual queries.

Right now, it is hard to say who is winning the war of words. If the number of followers is the benchmark, @isafmedia is far ahead.

Over the past year, the number of users following the coalition has swelled from 736 to nearly 18,000.

The two Taliban accounts - @alemarahweb, which mainly links to press releases and official statements, and the more pugnacious @ABalkhi - have just over 9,000 combined.

Many terrorist organizations maintain sophisticated Web sites and aggressive social media operations, despite widely suspected efforts by Western intelligence agencies to hack into and deactivate their online sites.

U.S. officials have grown increasingly concerned about extremists' stepped-up activity on social media sites, citing cases in which Americans have been recruited online by terrorists overseas.

The Homeland Security subcommittee on counter-terrorism and intelligence convened a hearing this month on how jihadists were using social media.

Although the Taliban is not the only extremist group on Twitter, it appears to be the only one exchanging regular tweets with the U.S. military.

ANI

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