US military apologizes for ‘highly offensive’ leaflet dropped in Afghanistan

Yesterday, the US Forces – Afghanistan issued a cryptic press release apologizing for an “image highly offensive to both Muslims and the religion of Islam” that was part of a leaflet dropped in Parwan province. While the press release never addressed the specific contents of the image, Taliban media personnel posted it on their twitter feeds.

The image (reproduced above) features a lion chasing what appears to be a dog or a goat with the shahada (the profession of faith in Islam: “there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah”) emblazoned over it. The Taliban uses the shahada on a white background as its flag. Presumably, the lion represents the Afghan government/military, while the dog/goat represents the Taliban.

A public affairs or information operations specialist made the grave error of equating the shahada solely with the Taliban, and the commanding general of Special Operations Joint Task Force – Afghanistan is now forced to apologize for the mistake.

Predictably, the Taliban quickly capitalized on the US information operations blunder and launched a suicide attack outside of Bagram Air Base. The Taliban claimed the attack and said it was executed to avenge the perceived insult on Islam. The Taliban claimed more than 20 people, including US personnel, were killed at the gate outside of Bagram. US Forces -Afghanistan confirmed the attack and said “the explosion resulted in a small number of casualties.”

The Taliban, without a doubt, will claim more attacks to avenge the perceived slight.

The Taliban has deftly used its propaganda to make itself appear to be the defenders of the Muslim faith. This is a serious issue and a major component of the war that should not be taken lightly. The Taliban, like other jihadist groups such as al Qaeda, derives its legitimacy in the Muslim world by enmeshing itself in Islam. Religious leaders and the fatwas, or religious edicts, that they issue are just as important, if not more so, than the military commanders and their operations.

Press release attributed to Major General James Linder, the commanding general of Special Operations Joint Task Force – Afghanistan:

On September 5, U.S. forces conducted a leaflet drop in Parwan Province. The design of the leaflets mistakenly contained an image highly offensive to both Muslims and the religion of Islam.

I sincerely apologize. We have the deepest respect for Islam and our Muslim partners worldwide.

There is no excuse for this mistake. I am reviewing our procedures to determine the cause of this incident and to hold the responsible party accountable. Furthermore, I will make appropriate changes so this never happens again.

Resolute Support remains committed to Afghanistan’s future, and I offer my sincerest apologies for this error.”

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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23 Comments

  • Dusty Rhodes says:

    We offended an enemy? Maybe we should just shoot them – that would be less offensive.?

  • WordsMatter says:

    Muslims and Islamists are not the same thing. Who cares if Islamists were offended?

  • David from San Diego says:

    I don’t find it offensive at all. If the Taliban put it on their flag, its not just a religious symbol. In any event, there is no god but the God of Abraham, and Mohammed is NOT a real prophet. If the U.S. Military can’t state that obvious fact, the United States will soon cease to exist.

  • bill weiss says:

    just another example of how poorly executed this ‘war’ has been. 16 years later & our military still has no idea wtf theyre doing. It’d be a joke if it weren’t for all the lives lost & money wasted, a bad bad joke.

  • Brian in Chile says:

    They could have had a picture of Mohammad on the goat. That would really have gotten their goat.

  • CP says:

    “We have the deepest respect for Islam and our Muslim partners worldwide.”

    This is suppose to be the Best and Brightest‽
    There’s your clue!

  • moron says:

    Oh my word.
    If we spent more time killing those idiots than we did apologizing to them every time they are offended, we might actually win the war on terror.

  • Charles Chapman says:

    Why are we concerned about the bruised feelings of muderous barbarians?

  • Gary Collins says:

    The BBC World wrongly broadcasted that the shahada was superimposed on a dog. That would be patently offensive to Muslims. But that did not happen. @BBCWorld should issue a correction.

  • porky pig says:

    really? drop a few bombs on their heads.

  • Vickie says:

    Quit apologizing for everything! Leaflets are wasted, anyway, because most of the population is illiterate. I had hoped that with Obama gone, the days of sniveling apologies would be over.

  • Michael Troup says:

    So, because Muslims don’t ‘do’ subtlety, we are now waging a war worried about hurting our enemy’s feelings?? Can we please just bring the troops home and leave these primitives to their blasted martian landscape of a ‘country’? It’s not that you can’t conquer Afghanistan, it’s just that there is no POINT…

  • Jack Frey says:

    We are in a war, why are we apologizing for anything we do. Lets just kill the enemy and bring out young men home to their families where they belong. If innocent civilians are killed in the process, that’s just part of war.

  • This is the height of gutlessness on our part. Piss on these satanic spawn. We are at war and we should pull out all the stops. These governments, as well as ISIS and compatriots, are not our friends.

  • Mike Wilcox says:

    This is a War. NOT a Goup Therapy session…OR so most of us Think!

  • JR says:

    Here is the Problem.
    We Apologized.
    Good soldiers are in trouble because they dared to tell it like it is.

  • Paul Cock says:

    This is a mistake that proofs that the USA still does not realize what Islam really is. It is better to leave this retarded people on their own.

  • Drew says:

    some of these comments.. wow

    The dog (what some people are saying the animal in question is) is an unclean animal to ALL Muslims, not just the Taliban. This leaflet was passed out to the local population to help convince the locals to report Taliban to GIRoA. Obviously, offending the local population, in any conflict, isn’t how you want to conduct business.

  • J. Doe says:

    Oh man, aren’t the comments here insightful. Guess the phrase “Hearts and Minds” isn’t really popular for anyone here, we’re just back to the ‘nam days of ‘Kill Anything That Moves’. I wonder how that conflict turned out…

  • Ashraf says:

    Another example of the failure of COIN.

    ISIS is defined by the Shahada on their flag. Putting the ISIS flag on a dog or goat being chased by a lion that signifies the US is good powerful propaganda.

    Now that our military is once again apologizing for this manufactured outrage by our supposed allies signals to our enemies that we Americans are submitting to Islam in Dar al Harb which is just what they want.

    Well played General McMaster, by your hand America is now viewed as a Dhimmi military by our Islamic allies and foes.

  • Chris says:

    American exceptionalism is on full display in this post. Most don’t even know why this war is happening. Pathetic.

  • irebukeu says:

    It’s pretty sad to see so many of the comments tend towards the “Ah, who cares”.
    Why do people assume its insurgents and Islamists these leaflets are pointed at? These leaflets were scattered to the wind over Parwan province. I doubt they are designed to fall into Taliban training camps or to change hardened minds. These obviously are for civilians. Civilians that are being asked to take huge risks for both themselves and the coalition. Security in Parwan is crucial to any sustained effort in this unstable land. That they are being dropped from airplanes suggests its not safe to hand them out. Parwan? OK. I guess things just are not going according to plan, yet again.
    The propaganda department of this failed effort wants the Afghan people to think that the goals of the people, coalition and Afghan government are one in the same. That we are there to help, respect them as equals and together overcome adversity because are all in the same boat together. If you support this sinking effort get used to the idea that Islam is in that boat too.
    Islam isn’t going anywhere despite what the holders of other beliefs act, pray and wish for. If you seriously want to make a go, and make yet one more failed effort in this disaster that will claim the lives of an unknown number of American soldiers for no gain and pull American families into their worst moments, THEN PLAY TO WIN. Pretend, if its the only way you can, that Islam is Important to both the Afghan soldiers that die in alarming numbers and yet keep coming to fill new bases and the Civilian populations they keep coming from or are to be expected to come from. People that value religion tend to value their own quite dearly. It goes both ways. Keep disrespecting a native peoples religion that you are trying to sway to your side by gentle persuasion and bribery and you will be disappointed in your efforts. Poorer and disappointed.
    Religions may not be real but peoples beliefs in them are. The lives of Americans are at risk out there. For some of us its family, friends or just plain fellow Americans. Lets help them in their effort to succeed in what will eventually fail, if, try they must.
    By now, its clear where I stand. Its time to leave. We are going in circles, for so long we are digging a well. An organized Soviet style withdrawal is what is needed.

    The animal in the picture to me, CLEARLY looks like a dog. A cute little dog. My post is already too long to go into any detail about the severity of the damage done by this leaflet.
    The damage is severe IMO, not to be underplayed. The people responsible for this will never be named or be punished (nor should be) as it wasn’t clear to anyone along the process what the problem was.
    Those who cannot read may be most influenced to the negative. Those who can read will read -“Take back your freedom from the terrorist dogs and cooperate with coalition forces so they can target your enemy and eliminate them,”
    Its a mess.
    I appreciate the work done here by the the LWJ and want to thank Mr. Bill Roggio in particular, for allowing me to post my comments and participate here for the many years I have. Respect.

  • Jay says:

    Putting the shahada on a hunted animal to symbolize violent extremists would be like putting the Cross on an anti-KKK poster in a trampled, derogatory manner. It confuses the issue and causes unnecessary offense. Why not just write “طالبان” (Taliban)?

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