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NATO's new Afghan battleground: YouTube

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Published on Feb 27, 2008

The YouTube factor
NATO plans to declassify more combat video and battle the Taliban on YouTube. CNN's Paula Newton reports.

The story

NATO is acknowledging YouTube as its new battleground in the six-year war on Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, as the military alliance posts formerly secret surveillance and attack video.

The strategy aims to counter years of propaganda video posted on the Internet showing Taliban attacks on NATO forces which fighters use to claim that NATO's position in the Afghan war is deteriorating.

"The Taliban, who are literally cave-dwellers, are doing better than we are on a key battleground -- and that's video," said NATO spokesman James Appathurai. "They deploy with videographers. We don't. They have DVDs out in an hour, we don't."
Wielding video cameras like weapons, fighters quickly upload images of their attacks and create a valuable morale booster for their supporters.

Now, after much internal debate, NATO has begun declassifying and posting top secret combat video on YouTube and other Web platforms to try and beat the Taliban at its own game.

"We're, in a sense, winning the tactical battles, but we're not focusing enough on the strategic battle, which is public opinion," said Appathurai.
NATO made several video excerpts available to CNN. One excerpt shows an armed Taliban fighter disguised as a woman in a full burqa, taking refuge with women and children to avoid being targeted by NATO.

One disturbing NATO video begins with a birds-eye view of a home in southern Afghanistan where NATO said a high-level Taliban meeting was taking place. Before NATO helicopters took aim at the house, a small boy is posted at the door as a human shield, forcing the NATO chopper pilot to hold fire.

Information is a crucial tool in any war, but is especially important in Afghanistan where the Taliban's deeds, words and images have portrayed a deteriorating security landscape, with NATO soldiers on the run.

NATO officials argue that this is far from the truth and the country has experienced significant development and growth with constant attention being paid to security problems.

Appathurai said there are hundreds of military combat videos that show the true extent of Taliban engagement and the brutality of their tactics.

He admitted that in the past he had a hard time convincing NATO allies to declassify this sensitive, secret video for wide release. He said on occasion, that will now change.

NATO said the Taliban videos slowly erode the world's perception of how the Afghanistan mission is progressing. But the Taliban's media savvy means much more, said one expert.

Videos such as those produced by the Taliban are the lifeblood of terrorist recruiting campaigns, said Glen Jenvey, a UK-based Internet specialist who tracks trends in extremist and jihad content on the Web.

"At one point somebody has actually brainwashed these people to become terrorists, and this is where the recruiting sergeants actually take hold and the online part is an important part of it," Jenvey said.

NATO forces in Afghanistan boast a contingent of about 41,000 soldiers from 38 nations, including 19,000 U.S. troops, according to the Pentagon. The mission is the largest ground operation in the military alliance's history.
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In October 2001, a U.S.-led coalition invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban-led government which harbored al Qaeda terrorists responsible for the September 11 attacks.

In addition to Taliban fighters, NATO troops also hunt for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who is thought to be hiding along the rugged Afghan-Pakistan border.

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