KABUL, Afghanistan -- It has not been a good month for the Taliban. Thursday night, the organization's El Emara website was hacked twice, causing much humiliation, with the hackers substituting propaganda with photographs of Taliban atrocities and pro-Afghan government and coalition slogans.
The hack was only one of a series of recent events suggesting the militant group has fallen on tough times or even reached a crisis point.
The Taliban blamed intelligence agencies that it said were worried about the strength of their messages.
"It [the group's website] was hacked again by enemies and foreign intelligence services," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said. "The enemy tries to push its propaganda. The enemy is worried by what gets published in our webpage. It's confusing for them, so they try to react."
The internet is important to the insurgents for more than just propaganda. They have appealed for donations on one of their websites, providing email addresses and telephone numbers and explaining to supporters how they can fund the ongoing campaign of violence in Afghanistan.
The alleged income from smuggling opium and donations from private sources in the Gulf no longer appears to be enough to finance the insurgency.
Internationally sponsored, poppy-eradication programs operating throughout the country seem to have had an effect, even if a recent survey by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime showed that the success rate of such programs had decreased and predicted more farmers might soon return to the lucrative business.
Support for the organization is not constant. Some Taliban foot soldiers, particularly from the provinces, do not necessarily believe in the Taliban philosophy.
“The Taliban sometimes force male members of poor, helpless families in the villages to join and threaten them if they don’t,” Davood Moradian, political science professor at the American University in Kabul, told NBC News.
Moradian said the Taliban take advantage particularly in provinces too remote for Afghan law enforcement to reach “so they end up being the rule of law in those places.”
High unemployment and poverty are significant reasons why young men join the Taliban, a study from the International Council on Security and Development conducted southern Afghanistan found. The beliefs and ideology of the Taliban, ICOS contends, are secondary or even unimportant to these recruits.
“In the villages, they had their crops destroyed, there is no water, no jobs, nothing to do – isn’t it fair that they go and join the Taliban? Wouldn’t you do the same thing?” a farmer quoted in the report said.
But sometimes poverty -- coupled with desperation and stupidity -- can work against the Taliban.
Last week, Mohammed Ahsan -- a “mid-level” Taliban commander as the U.S. military described him –- turned himself in and promptly demanded the $100 reward offered by his own wanted poster.
Predictably, the Taliban’s spokesman Zabiullah dismissed suggestions that their fighters were mercenaries or unwilling conscripts, and the idea that militant group was in financial trouble
“This is not an expensive war for us, a lot of our soldiers fight for free, we don’t need to pay, they fight for their faith,” Zabiullah told NBC News.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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