KABUL, Afghanistan - U.S. and Afghan forces killed four militants in Wardak province, the U.S. military tweeted yesterday.
That's right. The military "tweeted" the news, sending it worldwide on Twitter, the social-networking site, hours before making the formal announcement to the media.
The U.S. military is putting Twitter, along with Facebook and YouTube, into its arsenal of weapons for getting out its side of the Afghan story, reaching the online generation and countering the Taliban's own fast-growing Web-site and text-messaging skills.
"Afghan & coalition forces killed four militants & detained two suspects in a Wardak Province operation targeting an IED-network commander," said a military's tweet yesterday, coming in under the 140-character limit for such messages. IED is shorthand for roadside bombs known as improvised explosive devices.
"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. military spokesman in Afghanistan.
Besides tweeting, the brass are also encouraging troops to post stories and photos on Web sites to portray daily life in Afghanistan.
Many military commands and troops already use social-networking sites. But the effort in Afghanistan is the first to harness the power of such sites for spreading information from an active war zone.
U.S. officials here have long fretted that the military is losing the information war in Afghanistan to the Taliban, who they say routinely inflate their own successes, and American failures, on Web sites with chat rooms frequented by Taliban sympathizers.
The military has recruited journalists for their effort. Navy reservist Lt. j.g. Tommy Groves, 33, of Jacksonville, Fla., is a former CNN producer who helps update Twitter. "When you're able to connect with the people directly, out of the mainstream, it can be powerful," he said.
Not all the Facebook posts have been pro-military, and officials say no criticisms will be suppressed, provided they are free of hate speech, sexual, or otherwise offensive material. A team based in Kabul will maintain the sites and watch for false postings that evade password protections.
Two roadside bombs that struck back-to-back a few miles apart hit two U.S. military vehicles in Afghanistan yesterday, killing four U.S. troops.
U.S. military officials have predicted a 50 percent spike in IED attacks - improvised explosive devices - in Afghanistan this year as militants step up assaults and thousands more troops pour into the country.
The deaths bring to 64 the number of U.S. forces killed in Afghanistan this year. That surpasses the 36 killed through the first five months of 2008, the deadliest year since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion to oust the Taliban.
A U.S. spokesman gave no further details because relatives had not yet been notified.
An Afghan official said the attacks occurred in Wardak, one province west of Kabul.
- Associated Press