Spencer Ackerman wrote the other day of a new development with ISAF: they are now bragging about air strikes. This is something of a reversal, as in previous years ISAF has been low-key, even apologetic, at the least popular form of military activity in Afghanistan. But under General Petraeus, it seems, the military will try to boast about the insurgents it kills off.
The problems of air strikes, however, remain, namely those posed by bad intelligence. That’s what might have happened in Takhar province this week, where an air strike supposedly killed off an unknown “senior leader” in the IMU, but also killed several campaign workers and wounded a candidate for parliament. Digging through the different versions of the stories about this air strike is a difficult thing, and I found which version you choose to believe has a lot to do with your politics. I wrote for the Columbia Journalism Review:
It’s not uncommon, still, for U.S. forces to be misled by local opponents accusing their nemeses of belonging to one insurgent group or another. It happened in Shindand, Herat. Given ISAF’s choice of words—a “precision air strike,” targeting a specific person they know is a terrorist—it’s likely they just had bad information from a source they thought could be trusted.
But even more interesting than the particulars of this incident, whose details will emerge over time and provide an opportunity for informed reflection and analysis, is how these media outlets covered the event. The LWJ and BBC picked sides early—LWJ never questions the U.S. military, and the BBC almost never questions locals claiming knowledge of an event—and presented skewed, cherry-picked pieces of evidence to support their work. Only The New York Times came right out and said there is a sharp dispute between the West and Afghanistan over what happened, and that there just wasn’t enough information to say definitively what happened.
Oh well, right?