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Abu Muqawama, writing from Beirut:
Another thing we learned during the Syria raid? Our information operations still suck. The self-serving Syrian narrative -- that those killed were civilians, including women and children -- has persisted unchallenged in the press here in Beirut and abroad despite an AP photographer seeing the bodies of seven men at the funeral. The PAO response after one of these raids must be swift and overwhelming. Within the Arabic-language media and much of the non-American English-language media, the Syrian narrative dominated. And if you can't beat a slow-moving autocracy like Syria in an IO campaign, how do you expect to beat the Taliban?Contra McCain ("I'd rather lose an election than a war"), the motto of the US military might be "we'd rather lose a war then release a statement before we've had several months to investigate the issue and clear it with our attorneys."
It's frustrating, but there are good reasons for slow response. First among them is a real desire to get the facts and a knowledge of "the fog of war". While this may seem quaint and charming to a reporter whose job is to sell papers or attract viewers (and who may or may not be motivated by a desire to shape opinion), and is certainly an exploitable weakness by an enemy who wants to recruit suicide bombers, it's still a worthy goal. There are reasons for that beyond whatever value one places on "truth". Among them, "the Army" (as opposed to the enemy or a reporter) while portrayed as "the accused" in any such story is actually the agency that must investigate and possibly prosecute any incident. This task is taken seriously, and public statements can infringe on rights of the actual (or potential) accused. Factor in that anything "wrong" in an initial response will make headlines for days ("coverup" "incompetence" etc. etc.) and the case for accuracy over speed becomes unbeatable.
But this doesn't eliminate a need for speed, and thus far "the Army" ain't gettin' it done. Even the most cautious and brief official (or even unofficial, off the record) statement on that Syrian incident could have included a reference to the AP report ("An Associated Press journalist at the funerals in the village's cemetery saw the bodies of seven men -- none of them children. The discrepancy could not immediately be explained") - but didn't.
Another story from last week is less well known - likely because there were no claims of civilian casualties. Instead, the reporter merely portrayed American soldiers as panicked, trigger-happy goons responding to an IED attack by sending "thousands of rounds" into the darkness of the night, in a location where "there could be Afghan homes". That response might be expected, might even be excusable to some degree - but amazingly, it didn't happen.
How can I state that emphatically? Because the reporter was there, and the video he shot of the incident demonstrates his claims are false. One can't infer from this example that "troops never fire indiscriminately" in the wake of an attack, but one can perceive motive in the reporter's statements in the face of facts, and expand that motive to editors who saw fit to publish his story. (At least, based purely on available evidence a more solid case can be made for that claim then for any made by the reporter in question.) Pointing out that sort of personal/institutional bias certainly isn't the business (and arguably isn't in the interest) of the U.S. military, but pointing - even in a brief statement - to the "discrepancy" between what a reporter says on a video and what that video shows seems worthwhile and "fair".
But while the military didn't, milbloggers (some tipped by contacts within the unit) did - to a degree that the reporter in question felt compelled to defend himself from their "smears" - using the lack of response ("The US military has not challenged my reporting") by the military as the cornerstone of his defense. (For the record: I confirmed with the unit in question that while they have responded to bloggers' inquiries there has been no official response or complaint made to the journalist or his paper.)
But all that is old news. Here's the new news - and it's a twofer:
Foreign forces have killed seven civilians in an air strike in northwest Afghanistan, officials said on Thursday, a day after the Afghan president said warplanes had killed 40 civilians in the south.But the military is all over it:
"We do not know the facts at this time but we will investigate this situation to get to the truth. We take our responsibility to protect the people of Afghanistan very seriously and take extensive measures to avoid circumstances where non-combatant civilians are placed at risk," he said.Although knocked from headlines by the subsequent attack report, additional details on the earlier attack are being reported. Al Jazeera:
It was not possible to verify the claims of civilian deaths independently due to the area's remoteness and poor security.
The US military says that Taliban fighters prevented civilians from fleeing clashes in southern Afghanistan, leading to the death of about 40 people who were believed to have been attending a wedding ceremony.That story includes quotes from the father of the bride, but no indications whether he said anything to confirm or deny the "hostage" story.
The military's statement said that fighters attacked a US-led patrol that was moving through the Shah Wali Kot region of Kandahar.
"Civilians reportedly attempted to leave the area, but the insurgents forced them to remain," the US military said, but did not specify where the report was from.
Meanwhile, according to the BBC "Mr Karzai called on Barack Obama to prevent civilian casualties when he takes over as US president." That would go a step beyond the President-elect's statement (pledge?) implying that he favors doing more than just air raiding villages and killing civilians (the U.S. has "gotta get the job done" in Afghanistan which "requires us to have enough troops that we're not just air raiding villages and killing civilians which is causing enormous problems there). However, some have interpreted that as a pledge to stop air raiding villages and killing civilians, so it's possible that once he's in office we'll no longer see these types of reports.
I found this last sentence humorous:
"However, some have interpreted that as a pledge to stop air raiding villages and killing civilians, so it's possible that once he's in office we'll no longer see these types of reports."Of course that's right, we won't hear of any more such incidents, because the loyal and suddenly patriotic media will insist on the best of all possible worlds for the new President.
Under the Obama Administration, expect that all moves by our Commander in Chief will be not only perfectly intentioned but flawlessly executed. If any inadvertant facts come out that suggest any incompetence or error, exculpatory reasons will be found, and scapegoats sacrificed, all underscoring the brilliance of The One!
No kidding.Posted by dadmanly at November 7, 2008 01:28 PM Hide Comments | Show/Add Comments in Popup Window(1) | (Note: You must refresh main page to view newly posted comments here)