Jan
04
2010

Afghan Civilians and the Value of Anonymity

A late December NATO attack in eastern Afghanistan reportedly killed nine people–or, according to NATO, nine militants. According to Afghans, nine young civilians. The first round of reporting showed that some outlets, as usual, were willing to take the U.S./NATO line at face value–so long as that line was delivered anonymously, as in the December 28 New York Times:

A senior NATO official with knowledge of the operation said that the raid had been carried out by a joint Afghan-American force and that its target was a group of men who were known Taliban members and smugglers of homemade bombs, which the American and NATO forces call improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.

According to the NATO official, nine men were killed. "These were people who had a well-established network, they were IED smugglers and also were responsible for direct attacks on Afghan security and coalition forces in those areas," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the issue.

"When the raid took place they were armed and had material for making IEDs," the official added.

Senior American military officials cautioned that such episodes tended to be complex and that because of the anger about civilian casualties, Mr. Karzai was under enormous pressure to speak out quickly, sometimes before investigations were complete. NATO will investigate the killings in conjunction with Mr. Karzai's staff, the official said.

A triumph for propaganda: assurances from "officials" that the raid killed exactly who they say it did, and the reminder that another version of reality may soon emerge from the Afghan side, due to "anger" that their politicians must react to. The Times account added:

But the conflicting accounts and Mr. Karzai's public statements underlined the tensions over civilian casualties that have become among the most contentious issues between the Afghan president and his international backers, as well as one of the most politically fraught for Afghans.

One has to think that maybe it's not "conflicting accounts" that bother Afghans. It could be their dead relatives.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.