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Unworthy Victims: Afghan Civilians Deaths still go under reported in US media as the US begins year 12 of war in Afghanistan

October 1, 2012

Editors Note: As we approach the beginning of the 12th year that the US military has been occupying Afghanistan, we do a series of articles highlighting the often overlooked aspects of the human and material cost of that occupation.

Eleven years ago the US began what was then called Operation Enduring Freedom, against the Afghani people, unjustly blaming the Taliban for their role in harboring al Qaeda.

In the first months, several thousand Afghan civilians were killed from US areal bombing, the use of cluster munitions and from US soldier raids on Afghan homes and communities. The death of Afghan civilians went under-reported on most US media and particularly in local news media.

GRIID did a study from October 7 – December 21 in 2001 of the three Grand Rapids-based TV stations and found that during that 75 day period, there were only 5 stories about wounded or dead Afghan civilians and in just three of those stories did viewers actually see images of wounded Afghanis.

Independent researchers, like Professor Marc Herold, found that there were several thousands dead or wounded Afghan civilians during the first months of the US onslaught in Afghanistan.

Since the early months of the US war in Afghanistan, the trend to under report civilian deaths has continued. In 2005, GRIID conducted another study on local TV news coverage of Iraq and Afghanistan. Not only was there no coverage of civilian deaths, there were only a total of 3 news stories about the US war in Afghanistan from the three TV stations combined over a 100 day period.

A third study was conducted in 2009, with the focus being on the Grand Rapids Press. In this 100 day study, not once were Afghan civilian deaths mentioned, even though a great deal of attention was devoted to US soldier deaths.

This disparity of which deaths get coverage in US media is what Professor Edward Herman names as “worthy and unworthy victims.” US soldiers are worthy victims, while Afghan civilians are unworthy.

Yesterday, it was reported on Common Dreams that the 2,000th US soldier has died in Afghanistan, but the lack of coverage of Afghan civilians is still disproportionately low.

This tragic milestone highlights the ongoing dangerous conditions for US and NATO soldiers in the war-torn country, but also serves as a reminder that though accurate and timely reports follow each death of a western soldier killed in Afghanistan, the death of ordinary civilians caught in the middle of a war that has dragged on for nearly eleven years are hardly mentioned at all.

Part of this story is that for most of the war statistics of Afghan civilians killed were not kept at all. From the end of August, 2012 to when the United Nations began keeping track in 2007 (six years after the US/NATO invasion), the UN estimates that 13,431 Afghan civilians had been killed. 

Looking at the entirety of the war, most (conservative) estimates put the number of civilian Afghan dead at over 20,000.

To put it plainly: for every US soldier killed in a war that fewer and fewer seem willing to defend or explain, ten innocent Afghan civilians—doing their best to go about their lives under constant violent threat—are killed in war that eleven years later shows no sign of ending.

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