Taliban Special Forces Mimic Iconic Iwo Jima US Flag Raising Photo in Propaganda Stunt

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The Taliban’s Badri 313 special forces unit utilizes a meme-style propaganda photo imitating the iconic 1945 raising of the Stars and Stripes at Iwo Jima during World War II.
The Taliban’s Badri 313 special forces unit utilizes a meme-style propaganda photo imitating the iconic 1945 raising of the Stars and Stripes at Iwo Jima during World War II. (Image: Twitter, attributed to the Taliban Badri 313 Special Forces)

A special forces unit of the Taliban recreated the iconic raising of the U.S. flag on Iwo Jima in World War II while adorned in U.S. military equipment during a series of propaganda photographs. 

The Badri 313 battalion published a photo of four soldiers hoisting the Taliban’s flag in an analogous posture to that of the iconic 1945 photograph of six U.S. soldiers hoisting the Stars and Stripes on Mount Suribachi at Iwo Jima taken by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal during World War II.

Rosenthal’s photo is the most reproduced in history and earned the photographer a Pulitzer Prize.

Reported by the UK branch of Daily Mail on August 21, the Badri 313 is described as a, “Special unit of Taliban fighters that dress like U.S. soldiers by wearing camouflage, combat boots and body armor. The soldiers drive armored Humvees and carries M4 carbines.”

The unit is reported to be named after a story in the Qur’an where Mohammed defeated a group of enemies with only 313 men at his command 1,400 years ago.

The U.S. flag is raised over the Marine Corps Memorial in Arlington, Virginia on February 23, 2009 during an event honoring veterans of the Battle of Iwo Jima. The Taliban’s Badri 313 special forces published a propaganda photo of their soldiers hoisting the Taliban’s flag in a similar pose in an apparent act of disrespect to the United States.
The U.S. flag is raised over the Marine Corps Memorial in Arlington, Virginia on February 23, 2009 during an event honoring veterans of the Battle of Iwo Jima. The Taliban’s Badri 313 special forces published a propaganda photo of their soldiers hoisting the Taliban’s flag in a similar pose in an apparent act of disrespect to the United States. (Image: TIM SLOAN/AFP via Getty Images)

The U.S. flag is raised over the Marine Corps Memorial in Arlington, Virginia on February 23, 2009 during an event honoring veterans of the Battle of Iwo Jima. The Taliban’s Badri 313 special forces published a propaganda photo of their soldiers hoisting the Taliban’s flag in a similar pose in an apparent act of disrespect to the United States. (Image: TIM SLOAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Videos on YouTube by outlets such as Hindustan Times, India Today, and the UK’s The Telegraph are glorifying the Badri 313 squadron as a highly trained group of combatants that now patrol the streets of Kabul dressed in U.S. military combat gear rather than the turban and robe attire usually associated with Afghanistan’s terrorist organization.

On August 19, Reuters quoted an anonymous U.S. official as saying “Everything that hasn’t been destroyed is the Taliban’s now,” referring to at least $28 billion in U.S.-supplied weapons, including firearms, comms, and drones, that were disbursed to defeated Afghanistan security forces seized by the Taliban. 

A second anonymous official told Reuters, “The current intelligence assessment was that the Taliban are believed to control more than 2,000 armored vehicles, including U.S. Humvees, and up to 40 aircraft potentially including UH-60 Black Hawks, scout attack helicopters, and ScanEagle military drones.”

Elias Yousef, Deputy Director of Center for International Policy’s Security Assistance Monitor told The Hill that for the Taliban, the acquisition of U.S. military industrial complex equipment serves as both a “status symbol” and a “psychological win.”

“Clearly, this is an indictment of the U.S. security cooperation enterprise broadly…It really should raise a lot of concerns about what is the wider enterprise that is going on every single day, whether that’s in the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia,” added Yousef.

The Hill estimated using a 2017 Government Accountability Office report that Afghanistan’s defeated security forces were transferred during a period spanning 2003 to 2016:

  • 75,898 vehicles;
  • 599,690 weapons;
  • 162,643 pieces of communications equipment;
  • 208 aircraft; and
  • 16,191 pieces of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment.

And using a 2020 report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the U.S. disbursed from 2017 to 2019:

  • 4,702 Humvees;
  • 20,040 hand grenades;
  • 2,520 bombs; and
  • 1,394 grenade launchers.

The above is in addition to “other equipment” and 211 unspecified aircraft listed in a separate Special Inspector report.

The Hill estimated the total amount spent by the U.S. government on arming the previous Afghan forces is $83 billion, much of which is now under Taliban control. By comparison, former President Donald Trump’s Southern Border Wall Project was estimated to cost $11 billion to complete.

In an August 23 opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal, author William McGurm cautions the ramifications of what the return to Taliban rule resulting from the Biden administration’s blunder means for the people of Afghanistan, “For as corrupt and incapable as the Afghan government was, it was a significant improvement over its predecessor—and now its successor. Not to mention Afghan women and girls whose lives are about to return to pre-medieval times.”

“Whatever the waste and foolishness on America’s part, it’s doubtful those desperate Afghans climbing the walls at Kabul airport would be as quick to dismiss it all as 20 years of failure.”

According to “fact checking” outlet Snopes, the story is rated as a “mixture” of true and false because Snopes was able to find the image was first posted on July 27 by a Taliban spokesperson on Twitter alongside other photos of a Badri 313 graduation event, which predates the Taliban’s capture of the country.

Additionally, no statements were made by the terrorist group that it was representing the photo as a cover for the Iwo Jima flag raising.

However, July 27 reporting by the New York Times shows that the Taliban was already in the process of terrorising the country as it covered a story about how the extremists kidnapped Fatima Rajabi, a 23-year-old female prison guard, held her captive for two weeks, murdered her, and sent her dead body to her family.

Rajabi’s brother Samiullah told NYT Fatima was shot eight times, adding, “When we opened the coffin, her hands were behind her, together and stiff — you could tell her hands were first tied and they had only untied them after they sent the body.”

Snopes was also unable to explain where the Badri 313 acquired its advanced military equipment from.

On August 17, photos appeared on Twitter of combat-gear adorned Taliban fighters in Kabul holding ice cream while posing for a photograph which many have regarded as a meme-style propaganda assault against President Joe Biden, who is often pictured eating ice cream in public relations photo opportunities.

  • Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.