CBS' chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan was on Jon Stewart's show on 06/17/08 and talked about how CBS has limited its reporting on the Iraq War in particular but also the Afghanistan War. She tells some entertaining stories, but near the end (starting at about 5:50 in the video) she gets serious and really indicts the Establishment press coverage of the wars.
Stewart asks her, "Are we just numb? Are we, have we lost our humanity with this entire situation?" She replies:
Yes, we have.
You know, I was asked once, "Do you feel responsible for the American public having a, a bad view, a negative view of the war in Iraq?"
And I looked at the reporter and said, "Tell me the last time you saw the body of a dead American soldier. What does that look like? Who in America knows what that looks like? 'Cause I know what that looks like. And I feel responsible for the fact that no one else does."
You know, that's what I feel responsible for, that nobody really understands. And the soldiers do feel forgotten, they do. No doubt. From Afghanistan to Iraq. They absolutely fe-, you know.
It hasn't, we may be tired of hearing about this five years later. They still have to go out and do the same job. I was in Sadr City when it was just going absolutely hell for, I mean, Sadr City was like Armageddon. And there were soldiers there who had been in country nine months. Had never seen combat like that. Just thrown into it, didn't, you know, you're talking about convoys ambushed with five, six armor-piercing bombs, rocket-propelled grenades, everything. Nine-, 10-, 15-hour battles, I mean ...
And more soldiers died in Afghanistan last month than Iraq, who's paying attention to that? Thirty-three thousand [US soldiers in Afghanistan], highest troop levels since the war began, seven years after we 'defeated' the Taliban.
Now, maybe I wasn't paying thorough enough attention. But did anyone see press accounts of 15-hour battles in Sadr City during the sweeps there this year? We do get fools like Charles Krauthammer telling us how wonderful everything is going.
Here's a fairly typical example of war stenography, this one about the Afghanistan War. If you read closely, you can see that something about the official press releases isn't right. But that's not how the report is organized. This one is from the New York Times news wire, appearing in the San Francisco Chronicle, Taliban routed after incursion, military says by Taimoor Shah and Abdul Waheed Wafa 06/20/08. These are the first three paragraphs of the story:
After a day of air strikes and ground operations against Taliban fighters, Afghan and NATO officials claimed broad success Thursday, saying they had largely expelled the insurgents from the strategic Arghandab region near Kandahar, killing more than 50 of them.
But military officials acknowledged that an unspecified number of Taliban insurgents escaped, and a hunt was under way for fighters in hiding.
Hundreds of Afghan and NATO troops, supported by armored vehicles and helicopter gunships, poured into the region Wednesday after the insurgents infiltrated 18 villages. (my emphasis)
In other words, some "Taliban" fighters were reported to be an an area. The operation was probably basically an American operation ("Afghan and NATO troops") because, just like in South Vietnam decades ago, the Army that the US has trained there is heavily dependent on US expertise and command. The NATO forces in Kandahar are primarily Americans.
So the "Afghan and NATO" forces went in and shot up 18 villages, with most likely a lot of the shooting up being done by those helicopter gunships. Then they counted the bodies they observed lying around and declared they were Taliban guerrillas.
In Vietnam, the notorious "body counts" were supplemented with weapon counts, and those often indicated that far from all the "guerrillas" counted killed had weapons with them, i.e., they were civilian casualties. I haven't heard anything about weapons counts being used in the Iraq or Afghanistan Wars. Although the provincial governor may have gone off script and mentioned weapons:
Asadullah Khaled, the governor of Kandahar province, said at a news conference in the Arghandab district compound Thursday: "Hundreds of militants have been killed and wounded, their dead bodies have been left on the ground, with numbers of light and heavy weapons."
To make it even more confusing, the version of this story that appears at the New York Times Web site bylines Dexter Filkins in place of Abdul Waheed Wafa, and Villages Cleared of Taliban, Afghan and NATO Officials Say by Taimoor Shah and Dexter Filkins New York Times 06/20/08. Abdul Waheed Wafa is listed as contributing to the report. It's much the same material but it is reported differently. That version adds this at the end, a passage not in the Chronicle version:
"We have not seen major concentrations of Taliban," said Brig. Gen. Carlos Branco, spokesman for the NATO force.
"The contact we had were very small skirmishes,” General Branco said. “We used artillery fire."
Still, the speed with which Afghan forces moved into the area, and the air power deployed to support them, suggested that military and political leaders viewed the crushing of the Taliban in Arghandab as an urgent matter. General Branco said there were two positive aspects of this week’s operation: no civilians had been killed or wounded, and the Afghan Army, which has sometimes struggled in its effort to develop into an effective fighting force, had deployed 1,100 troops in 24 hours and done most of the work on the ground. (my emphasis)
In other words (still with a bit of reading between the lines), the 18 villages were shot up by American artillery and air power. Then the Afghan Army came into the villages afterward, maybe shot them up a bit more, and counted some bodies and called them "Taliban".
The latter report also adds at the end:
On Friday morning, a suicide bomber killed 10 civilians in southern Afghanistan, The A********* P**** reported. Police Chief Mohammad Hussein Andiwal of Helmand Province said the attacker detonated his explosives as a convoy of foreign troops was passing through the town of Gereshk.
These reports do have the virtue of telling us enough so that people who are more familiar with the standard operating procedures there can see that the reporters themselves were almost certainly not on the scene, that it was essentially an American operation and that all that can be said with some reasonable assurance is that the US forces shot up 18 villages and killed some people.
We shouldn't have to read tea lives or interpret chicken innards to get basic sense out of news articles on these wars. But we do.