Sensationalizing from the Other Direction

by Joshua Foust on 3/8/2009 · 1 comment

Bamian is one of those great provinces of Afghanistan that combine a rich history—aside from the giant Buddha statue creches, there are fortresses dating to Alexander the Great—with a permissive security environment. There is even a stunning lake, called Band-i Amir, that has become one of the centerpieces of a nascent tourism industry. At the same time, it is not a perfect, or even particularly cheerful place. The Hazara areas of Afghanistan are frighteningly poor, and even without the Taliban imposing a blockade vast swaths of the province face near-starvation in the winter-time. The northeast section of the province, hosting some large non-Hazara communities, must deal with regular incursions from a Baghlan-based Taliban cell.

Yet, despite the good news coming from provinces like Bamian, it is just ridiculous to argue that the bad news journalists, whom I sometimes skewer, are completely disconnected. Max Boot does his best anyway:

I have just returned from Afghanistan shocked by the depth of the disconnect between reality and reporting.

The coalition officers that I spoke with expressed confidence that with the U.S. reinforcements now flowing into the country, they will be able to score victories against insurgents who have been given free reign in some areas because of a paucity of NATO resources. But even before the 17,000 additional U.S. troops arrive, the situation is hardly critical. Kabul and the other major cities are safe, and even large swathes of the countryside are hardly infested by insurgents…

[I]t is impossible to do good counterinsurgency unless you reach a critical mass of security forces to population. That figure is generally estimated, according to the U.S. Army-Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual, at somewhere around 1 counter-insurgent per 50 population. We have never been close to that ratio in Afghanistan.

Boot goes on to repeat the same old tired numbers story we’ve spoken of at great length here—going back into 2007, when Boot actually felt it necessary to express concern for the state of the country. There are other tropes in his piece, like placing blame for low troop numbers only on NATO when the U.S.’s own lazy management of the conflict from 2002-2007 bears considerable responsibility, that are hardly worth mentioning.

Indeed, it is curious that, back when ISAF was taking over the southern portion of the country, Boot was all doom-and-gloom, yet now, when things are actually worse off in all parts of the country, even Bamian, and even winter violence is several times worse off than it was last year… well, let’s get angry at the people who note challenges. Boot is right to kick people who are lazy about it—I do the same, often, and am probably doing it right now—but he could maybe be a little less obvious that he’s repeating whatever some PAO sole-sourced him next time. That’d be… you know, honest.

Afghanistan is both worse and better than what you get in the media. While Paris-based IHT correspondents play their fair share in hyping a distorted view of the country, so too do New York-based author-consultant-historian-pundits.


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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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{ 1 comment }

David M March 9, 2009 at 9:23 am

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 03/09/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

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