The battle of Hearts and Minds in Afghanistan


  • Stefan Olsson

Publish date: 2009-09-22

Report number: FOI-R--2803--SE

Pages: 54

Written in: Swedish


  • information operations
  • Taliban


After eight years of war the Taliban movement, inferior in numbers and resources, seems successful. One of the reasons stated is that the Taliban are good at winning the hearts and minds of the Afghans. They are assumed to be skilful in propaganda and information operations. The International Security Assistance Force, with the task to support the Afghan government is assumed to be less competent in the battle of hearts and minds. This report summarises our current knowledge of the insurgency in Afghanistan in regard to the struggle for hearts and minds. In particular strategies for counterinsurgency, COIN, are in focus. In this struggle the propaganda war is at the centre. The information activities of the Taliban in comparison the ISAF psyops is discussed. The conclusions are that the hearts and minds should first and foremost be seen as a matter of cooperation. The success of the Taliban rests with their ability to gain support among rural villages. Villagers choose to cooperate with the Taliban as a result of rational deliberation in regard to what they believe is in their long term interest. The lack of law and order is the main concern for most Afghans and many villages see the Taliban as a better guarantor of security than the central government and ISAF. In addition the report concludes that the skilfulness of the Taliban as propagandists probably is exaggerated, but that their information activities have a fixed purpose. For insurgents information activities are important and the Taliban act accordingly. For ISAF the situation is the opposite. Pysops activities have low priority. The report ends with concluding that for Swedish concerns more studies on counterinsurgency, COIN, are needed, and that the capacity for conducting information operations in terms of influencing opinions is strengthened.