Richard Engel (Falsely) Raises Troubling Questions

by Joshua Foust on 2/8/2010 · 1 comment

Enough with the journalistic clichés, already.

The answer isn’t straightforward and raises troubling questions about who decides where American troops are positioned on the battlefields of Afghanistan. Military officials familiar with decision making in eastern Afghanistan suggest that delays in closing COP Keating were motivated by politics in Kabul and a desire to appease the Afghan government.

Although U.S. commanders had decided to close COP Keating, COP Lowell and OP Fritshe, the Barge Matal mission requested by the Afghan government changed the calculation. Military officials say with the Barge Matal operation under way, commanders on the ground simply didn’t have the resources required to evacuate Keating, Lowell and Fritshe; so the outposts remained…

Around 25,000 votes were cast in Barge Matal, approximately ten for every person in the village. A cynic might say U.S. forces were called in so Barge Matal would be secure enough for local officials to rig the vote. I have spoken to cynics within the U.S. military leadership in eastern Afghanistan. They go further than that. They believe the Afghan government used the military (which brought in the ballots by helicopter) to provide cover for vote rigging and that the Afghan request to secure Barge Matal had deadly consequences for U.S. troops.

So NBC’s chief foreign correspondent is outraged that the military might have killed off its own people to satisfy a corrupt government in Kabul. How would he characterize the previous eight years of operations in the country, then?

I ask this question seriously: one of the primary functions of the U.S. Army in Afghanistan is to support the government in Kabul. We have been knowingly complicit in government corruption for years—it was one of the few favors Seth Jones did us the favor of cataloguing in his grotesque of a book. Even assuming Engels’ portrayal of events is correct—which we cannot do, since buried at the end of his piece is his admission that he relied on bitter and cynical anonymous sources for his story—how is this any different from other soldiers getting killed on bad operations throughout the country?


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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 }

Anon February 8, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Apparently Engel was absent on the days they taught “American involvement with foreign governments from 1776-Present” in “journalism” school. Case and point: Vietnam anyone?

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