Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Marjah, the screenplay

by Larry Geller

Yesterday I wrote about the controversy over whether Marjjah is a town or not. It’s clear that there is a big battle there, and one that the US military wants well-publicized.

The controversy is not trivial. If Marjah is not a town of 80,000 people, what is it, and what of the military propaganda can we believe?

Curiosity lead me to read again the stories that I had clipped from the Advertiser’s billboard coverage of the battle. I was curious why the AP stories in particular (and they are not the only ones) seemed to quote only military sources. Was the reporter really in Marjah at all? The statements could equally well have been obtained on the phone.

Googling around for more, I’m sure he really is there. And not all his articles are based on exclusively military sources, just the ones the Advertiser selected. For example, from another story references "Walid Akbar, a spokesman for the Afghan Red Crescent Society.”

Still, the overwhelming body of AP reporting from Marjah simply acts as a military megaphone. Now, I know it is a dangerous place, and that reporters are increasingly targeted by one side or the other. So I don’t expect the guy to go out into the poppy fields for local reaction. Anyone could get killed there, and if it were me, I wouldn’t have the guts to do what ought to be done.

Still… check out this Al Jazeera story, which just happens to be the first one I hit with Google. The reporter is in Lashkar Gah, which would be just off to the right of the Google Earth video I posted yesterday. It might be on the edge of the fighting. Note the concern for the civilian population, and the inclusion of Taliban sources. For the US Marine statement, the reporter quotes the AP. A snip:

But as the civilian population remains trapped by the fighting, there are fears of a humanitarian disaster.

Doctors and aid workers have warned that supplies of food and medicine are running low.

"People who are ill cannot get to hospitals and others cannot bring them medicines,"  Ajmal Samadi, the head of the Afghan Rights Monitor group, said.

"They cannot get food or even go outside to look after their farms."

The Marjah operation is a major test of a new US and Nato strategy that stresses protecting civilians over routing Taliban fighters as quickly as possible.

Other reports have included both US military and local sources, for example this AFP story.

In general, I think it is wise to read widely on the Web. We should also be critical of military-generated news. Independent journalism is an ideal in a war zone, but a critical goal if we are to understand what our government is doing in our name.

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