I get that this blog is written by a British “media ops” officer, but I need help understanding.
Three days earlier we had been crouching against walls and treading with trepidation down a road that carried the threat of hidden bombs with just our body armour for protection.
Today the American general who might one day be hailed as the man who defeated the Taliban strode through the former insurgent capital of Showal dressed only his fatigues.
I had never heard of Showal before, and certainly not when discussing current or former Taliban or insurgent strongholds. So I consulted Lexis-Nexis: not a single news agency in that database has reported about or even mentioned Showal before February 10, 2010, except for one publication that mentioned it in a different context on January 26, 2010. So, is Showal a “former insurgent stronghold” or not? It could be, but no one—not a single person speaking in public—has mentioned it before Operation Moshtarak. What gives?
Lastly, a bit on population-counting. I’ve been adamant for a while that our population estimates of Marjeh—even if you expand it to include all the irrigated countryside that probably isn’t part of Marjeh—doesn’t justify calling it a town, or even a village… much less a “city” of 80,000 people. A friend showed me how dramatic this misrepresentation is: if we look at a satellite image of the area, we can see it is sparsely populated, with a couple of housing compounds here and there.
Now, just for comparison at a similar scale (they are not exact, as Google Maps still has imprecise maps and images), here is the town of Rugby, North Dakota:
Again, accepting that there are differences in scale that could muck this up, how do the two seemingly similarly sparsely populated areas compare? Rugby, ND has a population of about 3,000. The ISAF, through the press, is saying Marjeh has almost twenty-seven times as many people in a similarly-sized area. For comparison, here is Suffolk, Virginia, a city of about 78,000 people with the map at a similar scale to the two above:
We need to stop pretending Marjeh is a population center, a chokepoint, or any of the other ridiculous, inflated adjectives the media and ISAF have assigned it. It may have been the Taliban’s last uncontested area, but its population is not significant to the broader war (especially when, as Atia Abawi reports, the streets are deserted).. Pretending otherwise does everyone a disservice.