Maybe She’d Feel Differently If Afghans Were Lying About Killing Her Family

by Joshua Foust on 11/3/2008 · 3 comments

Ann Marlowe
‘Smile, we’re killing (fewer) Pashtuns!’

Somehow, Ann Marlowe keeps finding gullible editors, this time by declaring all the concern over civilian casualties to be a myth, some lie concocted by the Taliban and a willing liberal media.

The American Army has not always done itself a service in its relations with the media, allowing the insurgents to get in first with wildly inflated claims and outright lies, while patiently waiting for thorough investigations before making its case. But the U.S. military’s attitude has been marked by candor and good faith–as it should be. And this openness is just as important an example in this part of the world as anything else we do. Afghans are used to death; one hears little outrage here about the dozens of women who die in childbirth daily. They are not used to honesty from government and military figures.

What a dumbfounding mixture of arrogance and contempt. The U.S. military is so virtuous and honest in its dealings with civilian casualties (except when it’s not), and the Afghans are used to dying en masse anyway so why bother.

Even ignoring her bad faith with numbers and those who study and try to ameliorate needless civilian death (I suppose all those other casualty estimates—including by the United Nations, HRW, AIHRC, and Afghan officials—are just lies?), this is an incredibly calloused attitude. Not only can the military not get its story straight at first (she was right about that), they almost always “come clean” about killing far more civilians than they intended to or voluntarily admitted—in fact, it is likely the U.S. military never would have voluntarily admitted to killing dozens of innocent people in the Shindand incident without persistent international pressure to investigate more fully. And of course there is no explanation given for why the first few weeks the U.S. military insisted it had only killed five.

Ahh, but Ann dodges this by only talking about the fourteen provinces of RC-East. She even gets that wrong, as the spokesman she quotes is misrepresenting the figures (see, for example, page 31 of this CSIS report [pdf] on civilian casualties). And in doing so, she declares all of the concern over civilian casualties to be a myth. How foul.

Then again, none of this is particularly surprising. For almost a year now, Marlowe has been the poster child for the embedded fallacy—the idea that you get anything approaching an honest understanding of what the country is like and what sentiment is by embedding with a bunch of white guys wearing body armor. Similarly, by taking distorted figures from an organization that now has the reputation for lying about the damage it causes and portraying it as honest and innocent and faultless… well, that just makes Ann Marlowe the worst sort of propagandist hack.

People like this do far more harm than any phantom concerns over “enemy embeds” like Nir Rosen. Because Ann Marlowe is lying about how bad things are—making it that much more difficult to actually fix the many problems we have with our operations there. What an appalling rejections of ethics.

New Data for the Shindand Bombing
Coming Clean About Casualties
Did the U.S. Have Advanced Warning of the Attack on the Want Firebase?
What Role Do Civilian Casualties Play

P.S. yes, that is her picture from the story she wrote.

Subscribe to receive updates from Registan

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 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

For information on reproducing this article, see our Terms of Use


steve November 3, 2008 at 3:50 pm

Yum. I think I’m in love.

A.E. November 4, 2008 at 12:53 am

“Afghans are used to death; one hears little outrage here about the dozens of women who die in childbirth daily.”

I think this is easily the most offensive part of her article. Shades of “the heart of darkness” cliche you see in Third World reporting.

Joshua Foust November 6, 2008 at 5:26 am

Ms. Marlowe left a comment, noting the sexism of accusing her of sleeping with anyone without evidence (a charge which was in another comment I deleted). She also questioned what I thought of the many non-white people in the Army, and that she believes Pashtun men are calloused toward women.

Fair enough — they’re all perfectly valid points, even if they miss the point. Ordinarily I’d enjoy the opportunity for a discussion. But she also tried to bring my work into this, and for that, her comment was deleted. None of the authors here are unambiguous that this blog is written on our own time, for our own reasons, and over the course of several employers (for example, and I am with my third employer since starting up here in 2006, and probably my sixth since I began blogging in 2002). Even should our interests coincide with our salary, this blog is not related to my income or my employer, nor is it derived from my professional life.

Keep it on topic, people. That goes for accusing her of things you can’t support. Frankly. her arguments should provide enough fodder for discussion.

Previous post:

Next post: