Taliban Leaders Used Twitter and WhatsApp to Help Capture Kabul

Jihadists disseminate messages to Afghan residents on social media platforms

TOPSHOT - Afghan militia forces stand guard at an outpost as they patrol against the Taliban fighters in the Tange Farkhar area of Taloqan in northern Takhar province on July 6, 2021. (Photo by NASEER SADEQ / AFP) (Photo by NASEER SADEQ/AFP via Getty Images)
August 16, 2021

Taliban leaders used Twitter and WhatsApp to spread propaganda and establish control over Kabul as they stormed the Afghan capital over the weekend. 

On Monday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted that residents welcomed the Taliban and that "the situation in Kabul is under control." The jihadist group used WhatsApp to disseminate a similar message to Kabul residents as it entered the city. In recent days, Taliban leaders have circulated WhatsApp numbers that Afghan regime officials or soldiers could call to negotiate their surrender.

The Taliban has swept across Afghanistan in the weeks following Biden's withdrawal of U.S. troops, capturing major cities with little resistance. The Pentagon on Sunday deployed an additional 1,000 troops to Afghanistan to aid evacuation efforts as Afghans and Americans swarmed Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. Administration officials said in July that they expected a Taliban takeover to take months. 

The Taliban has used WhatsApp and Twitter for years to share official statements, but in the past week it has escalated its use of the platforms, using WhatsApp to announce new rules for Kabul residents.

On Monday, Mujahid tweeted a warning against looting and unauthorized intimidation of Afghan officials. The Taliban's "complaint commission" posted WhatsApp numbers for city residents to call "if they face threats from anyone" and set up an emergency broadcast system via the app as well.

Twitter and Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, regularly banned ISIS members from their platforms. But the sites appear to let the Taliban broadcast its messages without incident. 

A Twitter spokeswoman told the Washington Free Beacon that it was "proactively removing content that violates our policies." The spokeswoman linked to a policy banning "hateful conduct" and another that bans "threatening or promoting terrorism." The spokeswoman did not comment on whether Twitter considers the Taliban a terrorist organization. A Facebook spokesman told the Free Beacon it would take action against accounts maintained by sanctioned groups in Afghanistan, but would not comment on specific cases.

Several Taliban spokesmen have maintained Twitter accounts for years, regularly tweeting updates on negotiations and regional battles. The accounts often post photos and videos from frontlines, which are then copied and shared by pro-Taliban accounts. Only 15 percent of the Afghan population has access to the internet.

Both Twitter and Facebook removed former president Donald Trump after the Jan. 6 riots and have not restored his account, citing "incitement to violence."