Tuesday, March 09, 2010


Marjah, a town of 80,000 people or just poppies? Let’s go have a look

by Larry Geller

HONOLULU HAWAII— What’s in a dateline? It’s a claim by the reporter that they were there when the reporting took place. So a dateline on the Feb. 20 AP story (Feb. 21 in Advertiser) MARJAH, Afghanistan, implies that the reporter was there. Perhaps he was. Yet the story is a string of quotes from military commanders and others, with little indication of first-hand observation.

And now there is a report that journalists dutifully writing what they have been told to may have duped their readers into believing that this long-hyped battle in a “southern Afghan town of 80,000 people” was a major urban street fight.

From an Inter Press Service report:

Marjah is not a city or even a real town, but a few clusters of farmers' homes amid a large agricultural area that covers much of the southern Helmand River Valley. [Asia Times, Marjah, the city that never was, 3/10/2010]

Why not check the place out ourselves? You can do the same, just fly to Marjeh via Google Earth (use that spelling). Here’s a very short clip of my visit this morning.

Another snip from the IPS story:

Richard B Scott, who worked in Marjah as an adviser on irrigation for the US Agency for International Development as recently as 2005, agrees that Marjah has nothing that could be mistaken as being urban. It is an "agricultural district" with a "scattered series of farmers' markets", Scott told IPS in a telephone interview.

Marjah has never even been incorporated, according to the official, but there are now plans to formalize its status as an actual "district" of Helmand province.

If this report is accurate, it’s time to examine the mainstream media role in carrying out what may be a propaganda campaign conducted by the military and targeting the US population.

Wikipedia is current with the issue:

Marja (also spelt Marjah or Marjeh) is an unincorporated agricultural district in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, southwest of Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital. The name Marja is also applied to a small location within the district where a number of farmers' markets, shops and a mosque are located. The population of the Marja district is 80,000 - 125,000 spread across 80 - 125 square miles, an area larger than Cleveland or Washington D.C.. During the February 2010 Operation Moshtarak, the largely rural community of Marja was repeatedly described in the press as a "town" and even "city", following a 2 February 2010 briefing by US Marines.

Looking at the Honolulu Advertiser copies that I still have handy, here are the stories with their datelines:

Feb. 21: Marjah, Afghanistan—Marines endure withering gunfire in Marjah

Feb. 22: Kabul, Afghanistan—Allied coalition’s next big fight is Kandahar

Feb. 24: Camp Shorabak, Afghanistan—Afghan troops relish Marjah test

Feb. 26: Camp Geronimo, Afghanistan—Marjah flag-raising a bright spot in longer campaign

Feb. 28: Marjah, Afghanistan—For the most part, ‘Marjah has been cleared’

March 1: Marjah, Afghanistan—NATO force in the for the long haul in freed Taliban town

The Marjah datelines are all AP stories, and all repeatedly quote military sources without evidence of direct reporting.

This is not to say that there has not been a big fight there, just that we don’t really know what is going on other than what we have been told by the military through the stenography of the commercial media. Marjah has been exploited for propaganda purposes. We will have to wait, perhaps, for some independent accounts of conditions on the ground among the poppy fields of Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

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