MELISSA BLOCK, host:
In Afghanistan, the Taliban has had a change of heart of sorts when it comes to television. When the Taliban was in power it banned TV and even photographs of people, declaring them un-Islamic. The U.S. removed the regime from Kabul nearly five years ago, and now that Taliban fighters are fighting a guerrilla war they're using the same technology they once renounced.
From Kabul, NPR's Ivan Watson reports on the Taliban's evolving propaganda war.
IVAN WATSON: The opening credits say this video was produced by the studio of the Jihadi leader.
(Soundbite of gunfire)
WATSON: It begins with gunfire and a logo that shows the flag of the Taliban, a sword and a machine gun.
(Soundbite of chanting)
WATSON: And then footage of Afghan men in robes and turbans hiking through the mountains carrying weapons on their backs, praying by a riverside and then ambushing an American patrol.
It's an on-camera performance that would have been unthinkable when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan. Waheed Mujda is an Afghan journalist who was once a bureaucrat in the Taliban government.
Mr. WAHEED MUJDA (Journalist, Afghanistan): This is a big change, I think.
WATSON: He says the Taliban has made a technological and ideological leap with these propaganda videos, especially in one DVD which shows footage of a man Mujda claims is the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, preparing to fire a rocket from a mountain top.
Mr. MUJDA: We never saw video from Mullah Omar, and they never allowed this kind of thing, but now we can see everything is possible for these people that they disallowed.
WATSON: A spokesman for the U.S. military says it would be difficult to confirm whether it is in fact Mullah Omar in this video since so few photos were taken of him, even when he was in power.
Two or three years ago, Taliban guerrillas communicated their statements to the outside world by calling in to Afghan radio stations from undisclosed locations or by distributing threatening leaflets called night letters. But those methods have changed. Two weeks ago this young doctor awoke to find a shiny DVD lying in the courtyard of his family's house.
Unidentified Man: (Speaking foreign language)
WATSON: Overnight, he said, someone had scattered hundreds of DVDs around the village of Niazi, which is located less than three miles from the center of Kabul.
Unidentified Man: (Through Translator) I was certain I saw a teacher who was being beheaded by Taliban and we saw a national - a man who had the uniform of the national army on, and he goes with a motorbike and blows himself up.
WATSON: The doctor refuses to give his name because he's afraid the Taliban may come and get him.
Unidentified Man: (Through Translator) When a thing like this happens two kilometers distance from the presidential palace, do you think that we can feel secure?
(Soundbite of chanting)
WATSON: In this Taliban video entitled Spies, masked men use knives to saw off the heads of at least six alleged informants. The sequence concludes with the words, the result of spying, followed by three exclamation points.
This grisly scene looks like a direct imitation of videos shot by insurgents in Iraq. In fact, some of the more professionally produced videos appear to have been made not by Afghans but by Arabs.
(Soundbite of bombing)
WATSON: This video was produced by a group that calls itself As Sahab Media. That's the same organization that puts out videos of al-Qaida leaders like Ayman al-Zawahiri. This video opens with computer graphics of rockets striking a U.S. map. It shows several men making a bomb and then footage of a Humvee hitting a huge landmine as it crosses an Afghan riverbed, all accompanied by Arabic subtitles.
(Soundbite of yelling)
WATSON: NATO and Afghan government officials agree that the Taliban's propaganda machine has gotten more sophisticated, even as the fighting has gotten more intense. This was the bloodiest year yet of the Taliban insurgency, with more than 3,000 people killed, including around 150 foreign troops.
Ivan Watson, NPR News, Kabul.
BLOCK: And you can see clips from Taliban videos at NPR.org.
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