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US ‘hiding’ casualty figures in Afghanistan? December 23, 2006

Posted by franklittle in Afghanistan, media, Media and Journalism, The War On Terror, United States, US Media, US Politics.

Firstly, I am not, despite two posts in a row, trying to take over from WBS, and secondly, I really do have to stop using question marks in the titles of my posts.

A short one this time. The indispensible Mother Jones has a really interesting interview with Rick Scavetta, the former US Army chief of media operations in Afghanistan, who finished up in February 2006. Short, snappy and interesting.

For me, the bit that really stuck out a section on page two, edited quotes below:

MJ: What are other ways to manipulate public opinion?

RS: Since I’ve been home…I get the casualty lists. The thing that’s startling is that they’re masking the casualties, the cost of the war in Afghanistan…..

MJ: What? Masking the casualties? I’ve never heard this before.

RS: It’s a public relations tactic. A news cycle lasts 48 to 72 hours. Say Johnny Smith from New Haven, Conn., is in Kunar Province where his American infantry battalion is operating. He’s in a fight with local insurgents — not Osama bin Laden, maybe some foreign fighters, but mostly local. Johnny Smith dies in combat. Within 24 hours there’s a news release that comes out of this island we call Kabul that says a coalition soldier was killed in Afghanistan today. We’re not going to give out his name because we’re going to say, “The next of kin have to be notified.” We’re not going to give out his nationality because we’re all part of this quote “coalition.”

But here’s the sad fact: 99.99 % of coalition forces in Kunar are in fact American. So now in the news — NBC news, national news, wire services — the only thing that’s released is that a “coalition” soldier was killed in Afghanistan today.

And 72 hours later when the DOD finally releases Private Johnny Smith’s name, the New Haven Register and Channel 8 will pick up the memorial service and how sad Johnny’s family is. But in San Francisco, they never hear about it. In Minnesota, they never hear about it. In Florida, they never hear about it.”

I put ‘hiding’ in inverted commas because he is not suggesting that the number of US casualties is dishonestly represented, merely that the release of news is managed in such a way as to ensure the damaging impact on home morale in the US of US casulaties is minimised. Oh, and subscribe to Mother Jones, support independent investigative journalism, there’s not much of it and it’s named after an Irish-American 🙂


1. WorldbyStorm - December 23, 2006

Another fairly depressing mess, in so far as the intervention in Afghanistan was seen at the time as legitimate in the court of world opinion, but now that too has been tainted by the Iraq debacle.

I was discussing this the other day with a friend who thought that it could be a generation before internationally sanctioned interventions become feasible again. Certainly the appetite for sanctioning such actions seems to be at an all time low and if, like me, people think that there are limited but justifiable grounds for such sort of actions (do we have to list them?) that’s extremely disturbing.


2. Mbari Hogun - December 23, 2006

That’s probably true, although it seems to me that, compared to Iraq, where if a “coalition” soldier is killed, he’s almost certainly American, Afghanistan is something like a real joint effort.

The Canadian press certainly aren’t playing down soldiers’ deaths. Every dead soldier gets a photo in he paper, or on the TV news, etc. Maybe that’s why the war against the Taliban has become something of an issue in parliament.

At this point, I still support the Coalition presence in Afghanistan, as do the majority of Afghans, for that matter. But there are some seriously misguided policies in place, especially regarding the production of opium. Fighting the drug trade in Afghanistan, in my opinion, will be what sinks the whole mission there, if anything does.


3. WorldbyStorm - December 23, 2006

I’d entirely agree mbari. At this point the presence remains legitimate – for all the whinging at Lenin’s Tomb. But for that to continue into the future demands a greater international involvement i.e. broadening it away from the US.


4. Starkadder - May 2, 2011

I’m bumping this thread because the New York Times
is reporting that Osama Bin Laden is dead:



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