What article is the top billed story on the Washington Post website now? It is this atrocity of a WP news article titled "Afghan Civilians Killed After U.S. Marines Convoy Attacked." It is listed on the WP website as the "most viewed" article.
Before continuing, let me review the background. Afghanistan is a war zone, and the unfortunate truth of war is that, in fighting an indiscriminate enemy that uses civilians as shields in their attacks, or otherwise attacks in and from civilian areas, it is unavoidable that civilians will die. That is a reality forced on our soldiers by the actions of an amoral enemy.
But as you can gather, civilian deaths seen in that context are not why this is headline news. It is headline news because the AP found an Afghani who blamed the deaths on the Marines.
First, here are the uncontested facts. A Marine convoy was passing through a town near Jalalabad. An IED exploded next to their convoy, and that was followed up by enemy small arms fire from multiple directions -- a textbook ambush. The Marines returned fire. At some point, either from the IED explosion or the small arms fire, eight civilians died. A reporter questioned the Marine Corps about the civilian deaths. The jist of Marine Corp’s response was that they would debrief the Marines involved in the fight, conduct an investigation with the Afghani government, and then get back to the reporter.
So, explicitly, why did this becomes top line news?
The Associated Press quoted several wounded Afghans as saying that the Marines had fired indiscriminately as they fled the explosion.
They were firing everywhere, and they even opened fire on 14 to 15 vehicles passing on the highway," Tur Gul, 38, told the AP. Gul was standing on the roadside by a gas station and was shot twice in his right hand. "They opened fire on everybody, the ones inside the vehicles and the ones on foot."
So how many problems are there with this particular article and this kind of reporting:
1. Anyone with no military background reading this report will likely be left with the impression that this is just another example of our military out of control. This report, as headline news, defames our soldiers.
2. The results of the debriefing will likely be published in a report buried deeply in the bowels of the WP several days from now. The damage done to the reputation of our soldiers and the nobility of their efforts under fire and in an ambush will not be undone.
3. When the results of the debriefing are released by the Marine Corps in a few days, I have little doubt that they will not show anything other then that the Marines returned suppressing fire towards the locations from which they were being fired upon. Anyone who has been a member of the United States military knows that our troops are trained and drilled repetitively to do precisely that. Wildly spraying bullets is counterproductive. If you are not firing in the direction of an enemy, you will be exposing yourself while at the same time allowing the enemy to keep his head up. That is something untrained or poorly trained soldiers do. The U.S. military, by comparison, is the most highly trained force in the world today. That is not to say that something else might have occurred on this occasion, but it is to say that the AP and WP should be suspect of claims to the contrary until they have all of the facts. That is certainly not what the AP and WP do in this case.
4. The jist of this piece turns morality on its head. It puts moral blame on our soldiers, and completely ignores the fact that the enemy are using civilians as shields, either directly or by staging attacks in areas were civilians are sure to be caught in the fire. This is an enemy wholly lacking in any sense of morality, and the cynical loss of civilian life for them is a plus because of hit pieces like this. Yet any reader who does not analyze what is going on will again just adopt the WP/AP thesis that it is our soldiers who are out of control.
5. Who is Tur Gul, the man making the accusations against the Marines. It is reasonable to assume that if Taliban were able to set up an extensive ambush in the area, including setting up IED's, that just about every civilian in the local area had do know about it. Further, they had to be complicit in it to the extent of not warning the coalition forces. I am not saying that such makes the civilian deaths justified. My point is only that there had to be civilians loyal to the Taliban in the area for this ambush to take place. So, is Tur Gul one of those loyal to the Taliban? We know nothing about him besides his name. By naming him, the W.P. gives a paper thin veneer of reliability to its article. What most readers will not know, however, is that just because the W.P or A.P. provides a name, that alone is no indicia of reliabity. Just do a search on Michelle Malkin's website for "AP."
6. The basic thesis of this hit piece is very damaging in another regard. It incrementally moves the public, and our government, to place an ever greater burden on our ROE -- "rules of engagement" -- that govern when and how our soldiers can fire and protect themselves in hostilities. Let me give you some idea of how the ROE -- and our soldiers who, unlike the enemy, place a value on human life -- operate by quoting from this article in the Guardian from February 22, 2007. And just for the record, as you read this article, know that the Guardian is the U.K.'s leading far left newspaper and it's editorial position is vehemently opposed to the war in Iraq.
Boys on bikes cycle backwards and forwards on a footbridge over a small canal lined with houses and groves of date palms. Women in headscarves look anxiously in groups from windows. Men walk with shopping bags. A gunman, clutching an AK-47, bobs his head around the corner of an alleyway close to a school. Once. Twice. On the third occasion a child, a boy seven or eight years old, is thrust out in front of him. The gunman holds him firmly by the arm and steps out for instant into full view of the Bradley's gunner to get a proper look, then yanks the boy back and disappears.
"That is really dirty," says Specialist Chris Jankow, in the back of the Bradley, with a mixture of contempt, anger and frustration. "They know exactly what our rules of engagement are. They know we can't fire back."
A few minutes and a few hundred metres later the performance is repeated. A woman and three small children emerge uncertainly from behind a building, little more than a shack. They stare at the approaching armour. After a few seconds they retreat from view; then the process is repeated. The third time they emerge, a fighter is crouching behind them with a rocket-propelled grenade aimed at Jankow's Bradley. The group disappears.
There is a long pause, a moment of excruciating moral conflict for the soldiers and for the gunner in particular. Not to shoot would be to imperil their own lives or those of their colleagues, both American and Iraqi. To shoot would be to risk killing civilians who have been shoved in front of their guns to shield insurgent fighters.
7. This WP/AP article is one more in the mosaic of the MSM cynically and deliberately attempting to influence public opinion against our wars overseas.
8. On the very outside chance that there is a shred of truth to this story, it should be headline news -- ONLY AFTER THE MARINES HAVE BEEN DEBRIEFED AND THE MARINE CORPS IS ABLE TO RESPOND SUBSTANTIVELY TO THE ALLEGATIONS. That would hold our troops to appropriate standards and allow the newspaper to report facts, not shill for the anti-war crowd and their de facto allies, the radical muslims with whom we are at war. This AP/WP story, as headline news, is an atrocity.
9. I would urge you to complain to the Washington Post about their ethical, moral, and journalistic standards in running this piece as headline news. The Washington Post contact information is:
Main Phone: 202.334.6000
Letters to the Editor: Letters to the Editor
The Washington Post
1150 15 St. NW
Washington, DC 20071
and by e-mail at: email@example.com
Update: The New York Times has a similar article, though, and I never thought that I would say this, the NTY provides a much more balanced article. The NYT at least includes the following:
The United States military said the unit came under fire after a suicide bomber detonated his explosive-laden car near their convoy “as part of a complex ambush involving enemy small-arms fire from several directions.”
Members of the unit, on patrol near Jalalabad airfield, returned fire, and the civilians were killed and wounded in the cross-fire during the battle, according to a statement from the military press office at Bagram Air Base, 40 miles north of Kabul.
“We regret the death of innocent Afghan citizens as a result of the Taliban extremists’ cowardly act,” Lt. Col. David Accetta, a military spokesman, said in the statement. “Once again the terrorists demonstrated their blatant disregard for human life by attacking coalition forces in a populated area, knowing full well that innocent Afghans would be killed and wounded in the attack.”