As Afghan army forces constructed a new patrol base in a volatile stretch of Helmand province this spring, insurgents turned to one of their most effective weapons against the troops: They told local residents that their new, uniformed neighbors were godless “fake Muslims.”

The battle over Islam has become a crucial front in the war between the Taliban and the country’s growing security forces, prompting the Afghan army to create a strategy of its own for proving that its soldiers are true Muslims.

In Helmand, Afghan commanders swiftly tapped into their arsenal. The first step: building a mosque that now dwarfs the rest of the base, and sounding a call to prayer that echoes outside the city of Lashkar Gah several times per day.

“The message was, ‘We are the true Muslims. Not the Taliban,’” said Col. Ataullah Zahir, the top Afghan military official in the area.

Across the country, as the Afghan army prepares to inherit prosecution of the war from its foreign counterparts, one of its most important campaigns is being waged with billboard-size Koran verses and public prayer groups, rather than Kalashnikovs. The campaign represents a bold effort to counter Taliban propaganda and establish the Islamic credentials of the armed forces.

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