By Henry Schuster
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Editor's note: Henry Schuster, a senior producer in CNN's investigative unit and author of "Hunting Eric Rudolph," has been covering terrorism for more than a decade. Each week in "Tracking Terror," he reports on people and organizations driving international and domestic terrorism, and efforts to combat them.
(CNN) -- This is the time of year that fighting traditionally tapers off in Afghanistan as winter sets in, so it's probably not too surprising that the Taliban's latest offensive is on the propaganda front.
First there were videos, including one obtained by CNN that shows multiple beheadings as well as preparations for attacks and recruitment of suicide bombers.
Now, the Taliban has put out a code of conduct for its commanders and fighters -- including when to kill teachers and how to prevent sexual abuse.
According to Pakistani journalist Khawar Mehdi Rizvi, who obtained a copy of the 30-point plan and provided it to CNN, the instructions have been issued to district level commanders in Afghanistan in a small handbook.
The document, which says it was approved by the elusive Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar, was apparently first given to members of the insurgent group's Shura council during a secret meeting in late September or October.
Coalition military officials say they have seen the document and believe it to be authentic.
An invitation to all Afghans
The Taliban sent more men to the battlefield this summer than in any of the five years since the group was toppled from power by the Northern Alliance and U.S.-led coalition, but rule one makes it clear that recruitment remains a priority:
"A Taliban commander is permitted to extend an invitation to all Afghans who support infidels so that they may convert to the true Islam."
New recruits will be protected, says the code of conduct, but they are also subject to the Taliban's harsh fundamentalist version of Islamic justice, which in the past has included mistreatment of women, beatings and executions.
Rule five says that any Taliban member who kills a new recruit forfeits his protection and "will be punished according to Islamic law" while rule seven says that "foreign infidels" taken prisoner must not be exchanged for other prisoners or money.
While the Taliban has fought with increasing sophistication during the most recent round of battles -- often with formations of 50 or more men -- it has also suffered big losses.
"This is an effort from the senior leadership to reassert basic command and control over the troops," Jarret Brachman, research director at West Point's Combating Terrorism Center, says of the handbook.
He says many of the rules show how the Taliban leaders, including Mullah Omar, are trying to reassert control while in hiding and removed from direct contact with the rank and file.
A kinder, gentler Taliban?
The Taliban rose to power in the 1990s in response to corrupt warlords who were busy tearing the country apart.
Corruption is once again a serious problem, this time for the U.S.-backed government of President Hamid Karzai, and the Taliban code of conduct is aimed at exploiting that advantage.
"Taliban may not use Jihad equipment or property for personal ends" reads rule nine, while rule 10 says each Taliban is held "accountable to his superiors in matters of money spending and equipment usage."
This is clear PR, Brachman says. "The Taliban recognizes that it has the reputation of being a band of brutal barbarians interested only in clubbing women back to the Stone Age. This rule sheet reads like an effort to put a kinder, gentler, more moderate and professional face on the movement."
Until you get to rules 24 and 25, which make it clear that the Taliban's current campaign of destroying schools around Afghanistan and terrorizing teachers will continue as long as schools dare teach something other than the Taliban version of Islam.
"It is forbidden to work as a teacher under the current puppet regime, because this strengthens the system of the infidels," says rule 24. And if a teacher refuses a warning to give up his job, reads rule 25, "he must be beaten."
"If the teacher still continues to instruct contrary to the principles of Islam, the district commander or a group leader must kill him," it continues.
When schools are burned, the Taliban rules say it is important that religious texts be removed from the buildings first.
Defining the Taliban
Journalist Rizvi says that each of the 30 rules reveals much about the Taliban and how it has evolved over the last five years.
One rule, notes Rizvi, says that only the highest levels of the Taliban can approve work for an NGO (the non-governmental organizations that do much of the aid and reconstruction work in Afghanistan). Rizvi says this means "they have planted people inside NGOs."
One reason for the handbook is to put the Taliban's religious views front and center to its members, adds Brachman. "The first rule is classic in that it welcomes believers of Islam into their movement. Punishments and judgments are stated as playing out according to Islamic law. "
He also sees it as a move -- as the Taliban raises its military profile -- to set a certain standard of professionalism and behavior.
Along with rules about not smoking cigarettes and not allowing murderers to join the Taliban, there also is this entry: Taliban "are not allowed to take young boys with no facial hair onto the battlefield or into their private quarters."
Sexual abuse, says Rizvi, has always been a problem for the movement, especially in some of the madrassas (religious schools) that feed recruits to the movement.
Controlling bad behavior, according to Brachman, is just one of the ways "the Taliban are aggressively seeking to update their organization inside and out."
And that, he says, is a worrying sign, as worrying as their increased presence on the battlefield.
Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar, shown in a file photo, is trying to reassert control while in hiding, one expert says.
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