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.”