The US military command overseeing operations in Afghanistan on Tuesday, June 2, announced the official launch of its social networking strategy with pages on three major online sites: YouTube.com, Facebook.com and Twitter.com. The social networking pages are the first-ever effort by the military in Afghanistan to engage online audiences directly with news, videos, pictures and other information from Operation Enduring Freedom, military officials said during a teleconference with bloggers and Internet journalists.
In the two weeks since beta testing began, social networking has become a major focus of US Forces Afghanistan's communication efforts, rapidly delivering an unfiltered view of the war from troops on the ground and opening a two-way dialogue with people around the world interested in the Afghanistan mission, officials said.
Since testing began May 12, the USFOR-A Facebook page has drawn more than 4,700 fans, and more than 1,400 people and organizations have signed up to follow its "tweets" on Twitter. There was no active marketing of either site during the beta testing period.
Those who become Facebook fans or sign up to follow USFOR-A tweets will receive a firsthand look at reports, videos and images from troops on the ground, including products that are not available in the mainstream media, like exclusive video from Afghan special operations forces, officials said.
Video of a four-day operation last week to disrupt drug production and smuggling by insurgents was first featured on the command's Facebook and YouTube sites. The operation led to the deaths of 64 militants and netted more than 100 tons of narcotics – the biggest bust in more than seven years of war in Afghanistan, officials said.
Importantly for the war effort, the pages have quickened the pace at which commanders can get information to the public, allowing them to preempt extremist propaganda. The Taliban regularly make false claims of military victories to the Afghan press, which more often quotes insurgent groups than western spokespeople, officials said.
While U.S. Forces Afghanistan's social networking activities aren't focused on countering insurgent claims in the Afghan press, public affairs personnel said they hope the sites help strip militants of their attempt to influence the international press.