The U.S. military in Afghanistan is launching a Facebook page, a YouTube site and feeds on Twitter as part of a new communications effort to reach readers who get their information on the Internet rather than in newspapers, officials said Monday.
The effort, which officials described as a way to counter Taliban propaganda, represents a sea change in how the military can communicate its message to foreign and American audiences.
"There's an entire audience segment that seeks its news from alternative means outside traditional news sources, and we want to make sure we're engaging them as well," said Col. Greg Julian, the top U.S. spokesman in Afghanistan.
U.S. officials here have long said that the military is losing the information war to the Taliban, which routinely publicizes false claims about how many U.S. soldiers its forces have killed or how many civilians might have died in an airstrike. Spokesmen send text messages to reporters and Taliban militants post claims on Web sites, many of which have chat groups dedicated to sympathizers and the merely curious.
The military on Monday announced the death of U.S. service member the previous day from non-combat-related injuries in southern Afghanistan by posting the news on Twitter hours before announcing it in a more formal press statement.
The military is also encouraging troops to post stories and photos on Web sites in an effort to portray daily life in Afghanistan, including stories about development projects that may not make the news.
Many military commands and individual troops have long used social networking sites. The Air Force and Army have Facebook pages, as does Gen. Ray Odierno, the top commander in Iraq. But the new effort in Afghanistan is the first in an active war zone to attempt to harness the power of social networking sites as a primary tool to release information.
So far the military's Facebook and Twitter sites in Afghanistan have been in a testing phase only. Officials hope to attract thousands more users after a formal launch this week.