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  October 15, 2010

US Media and Afghan War

Reese Erlich: Military downplaying biggest surge of the war
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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Washington. In Afghanistan, one of the biggest campaigns run by the American military is taking place around Kandahar. You wouldn't know it if you rely on American media to follow the story. Now joining us from Oakland, California, to talk about US media coverage of the Afghan war is Reese Erlich. He's the author of the book Conversations with Terrorists: Middle East Leaders on Politics, Violence, and Empire, just published, and he's on a national speaking tour. You can find out more about that at Thanks for joining us, Reese.


JAY: What do you know in terms of what's going on with the campaign? And then, what do you make of the media coverage?

ERLICH: Well, the US was planning a major surge or campaign in Kandahar for many months now, and they delayed it in the spring. They now have leaked sign—indications of it to the media. But I think one of the reasons we're not getting a lot of coverage of it is because it's not going so well. The US is trying to secure the rural areas immediately outside the city of Kandahar and doing whatever they can inside Kandahar. And waging a counterinsurgency war means that you're winning—or at least attempting to win over the local people politically. But the Taliban—this was the stronghold of the Taliban for many years, going back to its founding in the 1990s, and the US and the Karzai government do not have a very good reputation. So, one, when you wage a counterinsurgency war, you end up killing a lot of civilians. And two, the people who you bring in to run the local police, the local administrators, are corrupt, and in many cases drug dealers who are using the government offices for their own economic benefit. And so, as bad as the Taliban is—and they are genuinely hated in Afghanistan—the Karzai government and the US are seen as even worse.

JAY: In terms of the media coverage, we had seen in the earlier battles tons of media, lots of press releases, embedded journalists. Not so in this campaign. There's some reporting, but certainly nothing on the scale of Marja.

ERLICH: Yeah, I think they learned from Marja, which is that they did this big publicity campaign. It turned out to be—including just lying about it. They claimed that Marja was a major urban stronghold of 30,000 people, which was just an outright lie. It's a collection of small towns numbering in the hundreds. So they couldn't even get the basic facts like that straight. Kandahar is going to be a much more difficult situation. They're hoping, I suspect, to win some victories, or claim to be able to have won some victories, and then announce it to the press.

JAY: Now, 60 Minutes did do a piece which put a pretty gloomy picture on the campaign. Here's a little clip from what 60 Minutes did a couple of weeks ago.


LARA LOGAN, CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, CBS NEWS: Is it your sense that you're winning here?

CAPT. JOHN HINTZ, US ARMY, 101ST AIRBORNE: I think we're winning. I think we're winning.

LOGAN: You don't look convinced.

HINTZ: I'm not 100 percent convinced. I mean, but you can't look at it like we're losing. I'm not going to come here and lose. So do I think we've gained ground? Yes. Is it enough ground? No. I would like to say that if I—given another six months here, I could bring in the next village, the next two villages, and bring them to my side.

LOGAN: But you can't.

HINTZ: I can't. I'll never give up on it. But at times I wonder, if I walk out of here tomorrow, where is this place at?

LOGAN: Where do you think?

HINTZ: Well, it's lost.


JAY: So what did you make of the 60 Minutes piece, Reese?

ERLICH: It was surprising, in that part of the broadcast was fairly honest about how difficult the situation the US military faces. 60 Minutes and all of the mainstream media had been big-time supporters and cheerleaders for the war effort, certainly in the beginning, that we were going to bring democracy and economic development. And it turns out you can't wage a war, a counterinsurgency, an occupation, without alienating the people. And there was a scene where they'd go out to this village that they had supposedly been contacted to help them build some infrastructure project, and they get out there and it's clearly—the villagers don't want to have anything to do with the US. And sure enough, the US soldiers are attacked on the way out. And I suspect that those kinds of confrontations are happening more and more because the US war effort is so unpopular among ordinary Afghans right now.

JAY: Now, the other development last week was the—several attacks on US-NATO supply tankers bringing fuel to the Afghan situation as they went through Pakistan, both attacks by Taliban fighters and also a dispute with the Pakistan government itself, which seemed to close down some of the supply.

ERLICH: Well, Americans are unaware of it, but the US is waging a war in Pakistan, supposedly our ally. There are acknowledged 250 US troops in plainclothes inside Pakistan. There is an undisclosed number of private security contractors loading the drones that are being used to attack. It's admitted that the drone attacks against supposed terrorist targets in Pakistan have increased many, many times. And the most recent incident was a US or NATO helicopter flew into Pakistan and shot up a Pakistani military post and killed three soldiers and wounded others. The Pakistanis understandably are a little ticked off at the idea that they're, in their own country, being attacked by their supposed allies. So the Pakistanis are showing that they have some skin in the game, if you will, and they've closed down the border and backed up all the supply trucks that include fuel and tanks and other military equipment. And I'm sure they've contacted their allies among the conservative forces there, the Taliban and others, and said, we're going to look the other way if you attack. And sure enough, there have been—dozens of trucks have been set on fire, some people have been killed. It's a real mess.

JAY: The piece of this which I find hard to understand is, if there was ever an opportunity for the US to try to get some public opinion in Pakistan on their side, it's the floods. And, you know, with a massive US effort to help on the flooding, you'd think they would have bought a little bit of cooperation, at least amongst Pakistani people. But it seems so modest, so limited what the US is doing to help what the UN has called the worst natural disaster they've ever seen.

ERLICH: Yeah, if this was any other country other than Pakistan, you would see massive daily coverage of movie stars going over to help the poor Pakistanis, and US planes unloading supplies, etc. But because of the political differences right now between the US and Pakistan, the US is not contributing that big of an aid effort. I just read Iran is going to donate $100 million worth of aid to Pakistan, and that's a lot of money for Iran, and proportionately a lot more than the US is donating. The basic problem is is that Pakistan is supposed to be a US ally, but they have very different interests than that of the United States. They want to see a pro-Pakistani government emerge out of the chaos in Afghanistan once the US troops leave. The US wants to see a pro-US (and by implication a pro-Indian) government, and the Pakistanis are playing games behind the scenes to make sure that some of the insurgent groups that they help and they finance and they support will come to power to eliminate the influence of the Indians, which has grown under the US occupation.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us.

ERLICH: Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. Tell us again your website where people can find you.

ERLICH: It's I'm coming to a city near you. Check out the webpage for the details of what cities I'll be visiting.

JAY: Cool. Thanks. And thank you again for joining us on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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