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New US/NATO Offensive in Afghanistan results in Civilian Deaths

February 15, 2010

Yesterday the Grand Rapids Press ran a front-page story about a US/NATO military campaign in one of the Taliban strongholds in Afghanistan. The article came from the New York Times and was headlined, “Allies gain control of Afghan City.”

The story states, “More than 6,000 American, Afghan and British troops came in fast early on Saturday, overwhelming most immediate resistance. But as the troops began to fan out on searches, fighting with Taliban insurgents grew in frequency and intensity across a wide area.”

Two paragraphs later the article notes that an American and British soldier were killed in this attack and that “Three American soldiers were killed and seven wounded when they were attacked by a suicide bomber on a motorcycle during a foot patrol in neighboring Kandahar Province.” The death of US troops is mentioned early on and the Press even used their deaths as the sub-heading for the story, which read as, “Two soldiers killed amid light resistance in Taliban stronghold.”

The NYT article continues by stating, “NATO officials said that no civilian casualties had been reported. In the chaos, the claim was impossible to verify.”

This is an interesting, since Reuters news service reported yesterday that 12 Afghan civilians were killed in the US/NATO attack in Helmand, Afghanistan. The article states that US/NATO forces told Afghan residents of Helmand to stay in their homes and not leave the area, which is when “NATO rockets killed 12 Afghan civilians on Sunday, missing Taliban militants attacking NATO and Afghan troops as they press ahead with a major offensive that must win over the local population to succeed.” Of the 12 civilians killed, several of them were a family.

US military commander, Gen. Stanley McCrystal said, “It’s regrettable that in the course of our joint efforts, innocent lives were lost. We extend our heartfelt sympathies and will ensure we do all we can to avoid future incidents.” The Reuters story also states that Afghani President Hamid Karzai is calling for an investigation of the deaths.

So how is it that the New York Times missed reporting that a dozen Afghan civilians were killed in this US/NATO offensive? In today’s New York Times, they do report that Afghan civilians were killed, but they list the number as 9 and said Afghan insurgents had forced the civilians to give them refuge. While the Times acknowledged there were civilian deaths, the tone seems to be different than when US soldiers are killed, as we noted from a study of news coverage from the summer of 2009.

The reporting of civilian deaths may increase in the coming weeks and months and the US/NATO offensive is just beginning. We will continue to monitor the coverage and see if civilian deaths are reported on.

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