Covering the Coverage

by Joshua Foust on 2/13/2010 · 2 comments

So, the Marjeh thingy got going yesterday/last night. There are some interesting stories to tell of it, in particular this front lines report from Chris Chivers (the man has a genuine talent for telling soldiers’ stories). Chivers is reporting an important aspect of almost all combat in Helmand: it is indirect. The Taliban are not running into the open to fight Marines and die by the 30, they are either hiding or have fled with the few civilians who have managed to flee.

Which brings us to Tim Coghland. He’s been covering Helmand for years now, and has done quite a good job of it; he reports civilians fled in terror. As we’ve noted here before, it’s bizarre that reporters notice thousands of civilians fleeing the area, while ISAF insists they are not in any great number. And no matter what—either civilians have fled the area or they have not—it means ISAF has a brilliant plan, got it?

Which brings us to Dexter Filkins, ISAF’s official spokesman at the New York Times. Reading his report, filed from Kabul, tells us only about the bizarre mindset of ISAF, and nothing about the battle itself. Yesterday, Filkins uncritically quoted General McChrystal saying that for Marjeh, “Falluja is not the model.” The paragraph before, “American commanders” were explicitly saying it is Falljua. Today, again, he tells us in the passive voice that Falluja has been the baseline for Marjeh. What?

Then there’s this:

American commanders said Saturday that the 6,000 American, Afghan and British troops who moved into the area earlier in the day had achieved every objective they had set for themselves. That included advancing into the city itself, seizing intersections, government buildings and one of the city’s two main bazaars in the center of town.

Some military units held meetings with local Afghans, to reassure them and to ask for help in finding Taliban fighters and hidden bombs.

How awesome of them, to declare victory eight hours in, while half the town remains uncleared! Of course, later in the piece Filkins notes:

Afghans in Marja itself stayed mostly indoors. “Nobody can go out of his house,” Palawan, a farmer in Marja, said in a telephone interview. “The government and the Taliban have told us to stay in our house. But there has been fighting in the area all morning.”

“I don’t have any information on the Taliban, neither where they are nor where they have gone,” Mr. Palawan said. He seemed as mystified by the day’s events as anyone. “I don’t think they have gone anywhere, because Marja has been surrounded by Afghan and foreign forces on every side.”

A local Taliban commander named Hashemi, also reached by telephone, said his men had fought through much of day, shooting at least six foreign soldiers. Mr. Hashemi said that six of his own men had been killed. “The Taliban are still resisting,” Mr. Hashemi said. “We are strong and we won’t give up. We will fight to death.”

So, I still don’t get why he needs to be even in Kabul if he’s just going to telephone everyone for quotes. Why does the Times spend so much money keeping him there for telephone interviews within Afghanistan? Anyway.

Rajiv Chandrasekaran, one of the very best reporters covering the war, notes that Karzai remains ambivalent about the offensive. I seriously wonder if this campaign means much to actual Afghans who live there. Judging by Afghan news services like Pajhwok, which run cricket stories over yet another Marine Corp victory-fest in Helmand, my impression is that they don’t.

Which brings us to the last thing to ponder about this offensive, at least how it’s been played so far. Tim Lynch argues that the Marines are so good, the battle might as well be declared won right away, as Filkins quotes officials as doing. But Lynch then mentions something else: none of the civilian agencies responsible for the holding and building and governance that is supposed to come afterward are capable of doing their jobs. Even the Afghans who are supposed to establish the government in Marjeh are at best minimally capable of doing so.

So if the ultimate objective of this counterinsurgency showcase battle is to demonstrate how we’re only there for the Afghans, and we want to get them connected to the rest of the country and developed as soon as possible… well, what the hell are we doing with broken agencies, then? Like I said yesterday, this doesn’t make a jot of sense—we’re mowing the lawn with no follow up. What’s the point.


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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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{ 2 comments }

FS February 13, 2010 at 11:13 pm

Maybe they keep those guys there cause they’re spies! Maybe they really want to spy on Russians!!

james valene February 14, 2010 at 1:18 am

maybe your a asshole!!!!!!

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