KABUL -- Taliban leadership is scrambling to stem the public-relations fallout from recent suicide attacks that killed dozens of Afghan civilians, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.
The insurgent movement has launched an internal investigation, and some commanders now blame an autonomous faction for the "massacres" of civilians.
This dissension within the Taliban, described by multiple insurgent commanders and officials, illustrates a similar problem faced by the U.S.-led coalition: how to fight a war in which winning over Afghan public opinion matters more than killing your foes.
Taliban commanders said the insurgent movement's unusual effort to distance itself from attacks for which it publicly claimed credit was partially due to the TV broadcast of closed-circuit security camera footage documenting a particularly gruesome killing spree.
The footage, aired this week on private Tolo TV, shows the Feb. 19 attack in which insurgent gunmen and suicide bombers killed at least 38 people in a bank in the eastern city of Jalalabad, one of the deadliest strikes ever perpetrated by the Taliban.
The recording, which provoked widespread outrage, shows a young man dressed in an Afghan police uniform casually shooting people at point-blank range with an AK-47 assault rifle. As the first victims crumple to the floor, others begin running for the exits while the gunman continues to carefully pick off some of the men.
A day after the Jalalabad attack, a Taliban suicide bomber detonated his explosives at a government office in northern Afghanistan where people were lining up to obtain identification papers, killing at least 30 people.
The U.S.-led coalition and its Afghan supporters have long maintained that brutality is the hallmark of the insurgency, citing statistics from the U.N. and human-rights groups that show that the Taliban and its allies are responsible for the vast majority of civilian deaths.
Yet ordinary Afghans largely blame the coalition for civilian casualties, arguing that there would not be a war and the deaths that come with it if the U.S.-led coalition had not invaded the country in 2001.
Taliban commanders said that the insurgents' leadership was eager to maintain such public perceptions -- which explains the sudden rush to decry the bloodshed caused by its own fighters.
"These attacks will turn the people against us," said a Taliban commander in eastern Afghanistan. "We will lose our influence among the people if we continue targeting civilian places."
The commander and others blamed the bloodiest of the recent attacks on the Haqqani network, a particularly violent insurgent faction led by Sirajuddin Haqqani. The Haqqanis, who operate autonomously of the Taliban's leadership while recognizing the overall authority of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, are believed by US and Afghan officials to have particularly strong ties to Pakistan's intelligence service.
The Haqqanis, who unlike the mainstream Taliban do not have a spokesman, could not be reached for comment.