Taliban Narratives

The Use and Power of Stories in the Afghanistan Conflict

Thomas H. Johnson

Shines a light on the Taliban’s propaganda arm and its impact on the course of the war in Afghanistan.

Bibliographic Details
Taliban Narratives Paperback
December 2017£30.00

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Why has the Taliban been so much more effective in presenting messages that resonate with the Afghan population than the United States, the Afghan government and their allies? This book, based on years of field research and the assessment of hundreds of original source materials, examines the information operations and related narratives of Afghan insurgents, especially the Afghan Taliban, and investigates how the Taliban has won the information war.

Taliban messaging, wrapped in the narrative of jihad, is both to the point and in tune with its target audiences. On the other hand, the United States and its Kabul allies committed a basic messaging blunder, failing to present narratives that spoke to or, often, were even understood by their target audiences. Thomas Johnson systematically explains why the United States lost this ‘battle of the story’ in Afghanistan, and argues that this defeat may have cost the US the entire war, despite its conventional and technological superiority.


Professor Thomas H. Johnson is a faculty member of the National Security Affairs Department at the Naval Postgraduate School (Monterey, California) as well its Director of the Program for Culture & Conflict Studies. For three decades, Professor Johnson has conducted research and published widely on Afghanistan and South Asia. In 2009, he served as the Senior Political and Counterinsurgency Advisor to Gen Jonathan Vance, Commander of Canadian Forces in Afghanistan (Task Force Kandahar). From 2002 to 2009, Professor Johnson was a US delegate to a number of NATO technical panels dealing with Weapons of Mass Destruction.

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Taliban Narratives is a much needed and detailed look at how the Taliban has consistently outperformed the US and NATO in getting across its message. We and our Afghan partners could do much better if we use this guidance. Valuable lessons for the future as well.’ — Ronald Neumann, US Ambassador to Afghanistan, 2005-07

‘Deeply original and utterly authoritative: a captivating study of a vital subject.’ — Richard English, author of Does Terrorism Work? A History

‘This is a very useful contribution to the analysis and studying of the Taliban and also Hizb-i Islami, in particular propaganda and how the Taliban have been portraying themselves. This rich analysis is based on material gathered in the field over the years.’ — Antonio Giustozzi, author of The Army of Afghanistan: A Political History of a Fragile Institution