The Afghan Taliban have created an app for Android smartphones in an attempt to connect with a wider digital audience.
The app, called Alemarah, gave access to Taliban videos and statements in Pashto, but was removed from Google’s Play Store shortly after the US-based SITE Intel Group reported its launch on Friday.
With their foray into smartphone apps, the Taliban are seeking to expand their presence on the digital battlefield. Militant groups have long used social media to communicate with followers and detractors. On Twitter, a Taliban spokesman runs an official account disseminating propaganda, while a cohort of sympathisers spread often-fabricated news and taunt the Afghan government.
The Taliban also run a channel on the encrypted messaging service Telegram, and a website in five languages, including English, featuring statements and weekly “analyses”.
The new app is also likely to be part of the Taliban’s rivalry with Islamic State, said Tore Hamming, a militant Islamism researcher at the European University Institute. Isis is known for its proficient use of digital platforms, and fighters loyal to the group have recently emerged in pockets of eastern Afghanistan where their propaganda efforts have included launching a radio station.
“That the app was launched in Pashto indicates that the local Pashtun population is the main audience and it could thus be perceived as an attempt to bolster its support in eastern Afghanistan where IS – especially in Nangarhar and Paktika – is pushing for control,” Hamming said.
Late last year, Issis developed an Android app to secure its communications outside popular and easily targeted social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
A Taliban spokesman was not available for comment. A Bloomberg reporter said the group’s app had ostensibly been removed due to “technical issues”, and would be fixed soon.