I’m disgusted with the New York Times coverage of the U.S. assault on Marja.
The paper, featuring the work of embedded reporter C. J. Chivers, wrote about it like it was the biggest battle—and most dangerous one—since the landing at Normandy.
Here was the most powerful military in the world, with the most advanced weaponry ever made, descending on a town in Afghanistan that everyone knew was about to be attacked.
Riding with some Marines in a helicopter, Chivers described the landing in his account for Saturday’s paper: “The men of Company K, Third Battalion, Sixth Marines, shoved their clips into their rifles and pulled their bolts. A chorus of clanks rose and fell. The whir of the rotors filled the cabin again. The helicopter banked in the darkness. ‘One minute out!’ The men of Company K hollered and whooped.”
The Pentagon’s own PR department couldn’t have done any better.
Or take this sentence: “A group of Special Forces troops had flown in the southern rim of town as well, into a place thought to hold a number of foreign fighters.”
Foreign fighters? What, then, are the U.S. troops?
Or take Chivers’s description of a U.S. attack helicopter “on the prowl”—as if its targets aren’t human beings but prey.
In Sunday’s paper, the New York Times gave Chivers a front-page story that reprised some of the very descriptions that ran in Saturday’s, including the “one minute” warning and the “whoops.”
The U.S. troops were intermittently facing “intense” resistance, Chivers wrote. And maybe the Taliban were fighting intensely, but they were vastly outnumbered and under-equipped. (Note: The Taliban air force is nonexistent.)
Chivers wrote about a couple of U.S. airstrikes that destroyed a compound or two. A similar airstrike resulted in at least ten civilians being killed, which we found out about in Monday’s papers.
For weeks, the Times and other news outlets have told us how U.S. commander Stanley McChrystal was going out of his way to avoid civilian casualties.
But on the first major assault, the U.S. forces managed to kill a bunch a of them.
And this attack is supposed to make the people of Marja more willing to abandon the Taliban, and more willing to ally with the U.S.-backed government in Kabul?
The U.S. will “take” Marja, but it’s not like taking Guadalcanal.
Most of the Taliban have long since faded into the countryside. And the deaths of civilians in Marja, and the subsequent interrogation of the residents, will not endear the people there to the U.S.
This is why counterinsurgency fails. It’s a lesson we seem to have to learn over and over again. And “you-are-there” accounts from embedded U.S. reporters don’t help us learn it any quicker. Because the embedded reporters are not embedded with the residents of Marja, who might tell us a different story.
Instead, we get the story the Pentagon wants us to get.
Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive magazine. To subscribe for just $14.97 a year, just click here.