Spinning the IO Campaign

by Joshua Foust on 5/21/2008

Let there be no doubt, there is a brand new Information Operations campaign coming from Afghanistan. John McHugh, the photojournalist wounded last year in Nuristan now covering the war from Khost, has a great post on the dread “Spring Offensive.” Rather, about it’s curious absence from the media reporting on the Taliban this year:

Yesterday, Reuters reported Colonel Johnson of the 101st Airborne Division as saying “there is no spring offensive” in Afghanistan. Colonel Johnson commands Task Force Currahee, which is responsible for security in six of the provinces along Afghanistan’s eastern border with Pakistan, including Khowst, where I am embedded.

It must have come as quite a shock to him, then, when he arrived at Bermel the next day for a security meeting with the Pakistani military, to come under rocket attack from the border. Of course, readers will know that since I arrived at Bermel in mid-April there has been a notable upsurge in rocket attacks, not only on the forward operating base in Bermel itself, but at the outlying Malakshay combat outpost…

Fighting season begins in Afghanistan in earnest when the weather warms up, and continues until the harsh winter makes large-scale attacks impossible. So maybe it would be more correct to say that in the spring, as the weather improves, violence returns to its normal level.

So what was with all that spring offensive talk last year? It is almost like the media is only reporting what it’s told to by the military—and because this year, despite the normal uptick in violence the moment the passes clear (and worse, undiminished fighting in many southern provinces that don’t rely on mountain passes), they’ve been told not to, they’re really not. Or they’re downplaying it. Sad.

But I thought we were winning in Khost? If Ann Marlowe is to be believed, which she is not, LTC Scott Custer’s strategy of kicking out all the civilian aid workers so his troops can “get the job done militarily,” by which he means sergeants teaching village elders how to govern their villages, has already worked and we’re winning. McHugh isn’t naive enough to think all is hunky dory—his dispatches are filled with legitimate and accurate portrayals of the security situation there. Even CJTF-101 would seem to disagree, even if not explicitly. Look at the stories crowding their front page:

All this since May came into existence. While in the grand scheme of Afghanistan that is not a very big deal (the scale pales in comparison with Kandahar, or even Zabul), it flies in the face of the impending victory rhetoric: the most recent stories are at the top. The chronological list implies the tempo of violent clashes with militants (thank Yaweh they’re not calling every schmuck who picks up a weapon “Taliban”) is actually increasing.

Almost like a surge. But we don’t call it that anymore.

This Topic Continues:


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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