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Leaflet War Rages in Afghan Countryside
The Associated Press, Fri 14 Feb 2003
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(Photo: U.S. Army Photo)

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — The war in Afghanistan is not just about bombing mountain hide-outs, it's also about getting a message out. The result is a leaflet war that has littered the Afghan countryside with thousands of pieces of paper.

On one side are the United States and its allies, who use pamphlets with mugshots of fugitives and pictures of Taliban abuses to warn coalition enemies that there is no escape.

On the other side are the Taliban, al-Qaida and renegade rebel leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose much more prolific flyers warn foreign soldiers they are targets, or urge Islamic faithful to rise up against them in holy war.

The anti-American pamphlets are called ``night letters,'' secretly circulated and strewn by the hundreds in towns, villages and countryside. Within the last few weeks, they turned up in the capital of Kabul for the first time, residents said.

At least once a month, a new pamphlet — sometimes two or three pages long — is circulated by the Taliban, al-Qaida or Hekmatyar's group. Sometimes they take credit for attacks, but they always vow jihad, or holy war.

In a full-page pamphlet apparently sent by Hekmatyar, a young girl is shown being searched by U.S. forces — the ultimate insult for conservative Muslims who severely restrict the movement of women and girls and their interaction with men. In some parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan touching a woman, other than a relative, can be enough to get a person stoned to death.

On the coalition side, the leaflets offer varied messages. In one leaflet, a member of the Taliban was shown beating a woman. The inscription asked whether Afghans want to be ruled by such men and urged people to turn over fugitives.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to tell how successful the leaflets are.

One new message from the coalition forces is reminiscent of ``Wanted'' posters of the old West: Postcard-size leaflets show the faces of Taliban fighters — wearing their trademark turbans and beards — in crosshairs. In the background are Osama bin Laden and Mullah Mohammed Omar, the fugitive leader of the Taliban.

Beneath the images are inscriptions in Arabic, Pashtu and Persian that read: ``Members of Taliban and al-Qaida! We know where you are hiding.'' The pamphlets have been seen in eastern Afghanistan and near the border with Pakistan, where fugitives are believed to have found sanctuary since the U.S.-led forces drove the Taliban from power in late 2001.

On the other side of the leaflets are pictures of burning World Trade Center towers accompanied by the words: ``The coalition forces have come to Afghanistan to arrest those who were responsible for the terrorist attacks in the United States.''

The leaflet also carries a warning: ``People from other countries will be arrested who support those terrorists.''

An organization calling itself Jamiat Shababul Muslimeem, or Muslim Army, distributed a pamphlet earlier this month that took credit for drawing hundreds of coalition troops into an attack by about 80 enemy fighters in southeastern Afghanistan.

U.S. officials say 18 guerrillas were killed and the rest escaped. Some intelligence officials have linked Jamiat Shababul Mulimeem to Taliban and Hekmatyar loyalists.

The breadth of the distribution and the statements they contain suggest the guerrillas believe they're getting the message across.

``We have created awareness among the Afghans and other Muslims about the atrocities of the United States, and we have called on them to start fighting. We are organized and our number is in the thousands,'' said a Pashtu language pamphlet from the guerrillas in eastern Afghanistan.

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