Taliban code of conduct seeks to win hearts, minds

A newly circulated document urges members to "treat civilians according to Islamic norms and morality"

Published August 3, 2010 1:30PM (EDT)

An updated Taliban code of conduct urges fighters to avoid killing civilians and forbids them from seizing weapons and money, a directive aimed at winning hearts and minds of Afghans also being courted by international forces.

But the document declares that people working for international forces or the Afghan government are "supporters of the infidels" and can be killed. Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar took a similar hard line in orders to insurgents that NATO forces said they intercepted in early June.

Mullah Omar urged fighters to kill anyone working with international forces or the Afghan government, including women, according to NATO.

The Taliban began distributing their new code of conduct in southern Afghanistan a little over a week ago, shortly before the top NATO commander in the country, Gen. David Petraeus, issued guidelines that also urged soldiers to avoid civilian casualties.

"The Taliban must treat civilians according to Islamic norms and morality to win over the hearts and minds of the people," said the 69-page Taliban booklet, which was obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday from a Taliban fighter in the Afghan border town of Spin Boldak.

"All efforts must be made to avoid harming civilians in attacks," said the booklet, which the insurgent said began circulating in Afghanistan 10 days ago. He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being targeted.

International forces have also stressed that protecting the population is key to winning the nearly 9-year-old war and have highlighted U.N. findings that the Taliban are responsible for most civilian deaths through suicide attacks and roadside bombs -- a message the insurgent leaders are likely trying to counter with their new directives.

On Monday, a suicide car bomber near Kandahar blew himself up near a vehicle taking an Afghan official to work, killing six children instead, police said.

The new code of conduct, which was published at the end of May, is an update to a similar set of directives released a year earlier that limited the use of suicide bombers and mandated that prisoners cannot be harmed or ransomed without the approval of a Taliban regional commander.

NATO and Afghan officials criticized last year's code as propaganda and insisted it does not reflect how the Taliban really fight. Analysts familiar with the Taliban said it was more of a political statement than a military textbook, meant to counter the international coalition's own attempts at winning hearts and minds.

Petraeus reinforced that effort by distributing revised "Counterinsurgency Guidance" to NATO troops in Afghanistan this week, about a month after he took command in the country.

"The people are the center of gravity," said the document. "Only by providing them security and earning their trust and confidence can the Afghan government and (international forces) prevail."

Petraeus also advised the troops to "hunt the enemy aggressively" but use the minimum amount of force necessary to avoid civilian casualties. The commander's predecessor, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, placed strict limits on the use of airstrikes and firepower.

"We can't win without fighting, but we also cannot kill or capture our way to victory," said the guidance. "Moreover, if we kill civilians or damage their property in the course of our operations, we will create more enemies than our operations eliminate."

At least 2,412 Afghan civilians were killed in fighting last year -- up 14 percent from 2008, according to the United Nations. But the U.N. found that the percentage of civilian deaths attributed to NATO and Afghan government forces had dropped. About two-thirds of the civilian deaths were a result of actions initiated by the insurgents.

NATO commanders hope that keeping pressure on the Taliban will force their leaders eventually to negotiate and will push lower-level fighters to lay down their weapons and accept government reintegration offers.

The Taliban urged their fighters not to surrender in their new code of conduct, saying "such acts enhance the morale of our enemies."

The insurgents also declared that all fighters must have beards unless given special exemption and are prohibited from smoking cigarettes, which are often viewed as un-Islamic by radical groups like the Taliban.

By Matiullah Achakzai

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