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Comparing Coverage of the US “Surge” in Afghanistan

February 22, 2010

It has been a little more than a week since the new US military offensive began in the city of Marjah, Afghanistan. US military planners have hot the news circuit to discuss these plans and the mainstream media has tended to follow the script.

In yesterdays Grand Rapids Press there were two articles from the Associated Press that illustrated how the mainstream media often reflects the position of the US Department of Defense, much like the DOD’s blog 30 Days Through Afghanistan.

The first story appeared on page A10 and was headlined, “Taliban town skeptical of allies’ promises.” In some ways the article was better than the typical AP story in that readers do get to hear from Afghani civilians, some of which have bigger problems with the US/NATO occupation than they do with the Taliban.

The article does present general skepticism from Afghani villagers but the US military campaign is not questioned or presented in terms of a violation of international law or as an imperialist campaign. On top of these omissions, the article comes with a picture of US Marines shaking hands with people from the village, thus presenting a benign view of the US military campaign in Marjah.

The second AP article is actually presented as an “analysis” piece. In this piece, the AP writers follow the US script in the new military campaign. The article asks questions about whether or not the Taliban will retake Marjah and the role that Afghan soldiers are playing in this campaign, but it is still presented through a lens that accepts the US premise.

This second AP article also includes comments from Richard Nelson, whom the story identifies as a “former White House counter-terrorism expert.” Nelson is actually with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Pro-US think tank that includes on its board of directors Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn and Brent Scowcroft.

News and Analysis from the Independent and International Press

Comparatively, when reading news media that doesn’t follow the US script, one is presented with a significantly different point of view. Jason Ditz, writing on Antiwar.com, says that the US campaign in Marjah is causing serious humanitarian concerns. Villagers have been forced to stay in doors for over a week due to the fighting and cannot get access to food and medicine. Farmers are also frustrated that they cannot gain access to their fields in order to tend to crops.

Author Juan Cole, who writes the Informed Comment blog, has his own analysis piece after the first week of the US campaign in Marjah. Cole has his own set of questions about whether or not the “Afghan Surge” will work.

Cole asks questions like will the US be able to secure and hold villages in predominantly Pashtun areas of Afghanistan? Cole doesn’t think this is possible and says that even in Marjah the community members are not showing much support for the US military presence. Another question Cole explores is whether or not the Afghan military will be effective in the long run? Again, the writer thinks that this is not likely. First, many of those in the Afghan army are not literate and have not shown much initiative in fighting. Second, the majority of those in the military are Tajiks, which leads Cole to conclude that since there are serious tensions between Pashtuns and Tajiks the Afghan army will not be successful in the areas, which are now controlled by the Taliban, which are predominantly Pashtun.

Another news that doesn’t fir into the US script on Afghanistan is what was presented on Democracy Now today. The independent news organization reported that the Dutch government is pulling its troops out of Afghanistan, that there is growing anti-war sentiment in Germany and that another US/NATO air strike killed 33 Afghan civilians yesterday.

Lastly, it is worth hearing directly from Afghanis in this video provided by Al Jazeera. In this video civilians fleeing Marjah express their fears about the US military campaign. 

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