Despite progress in Afghanistan over the past three years, a majority of Americans see the war in the country as unwinnable, and about two-thirds believe the U.S. should not be at war there. There are many reasons support for the war has declined sharply in the past years. Afghanistan has already surpassed Vietnam as the longest war in U.S. history, with nearly 2,000 deaths and thousands more wounded. It is no longer the “good war” and President Obama speaks about Afghanistan only about once a year.
But the main reason the American public has lost hope in the Afghan mission is due to the generally negative coverage of the conflict by the media. While major media outlets regularly report on the Taliban attacks, rights abuses, the drug trade, religious extremism, cultural malpractices, corruption, and other problems in Afghanistan, they seldom report on the progress made in the country, such as the success of the surge in southern provinces, progress in size and quality of Afghanistan’s security forces, and improvement in the country’s economy, health and education. Some alarmist journalists even sensationalize the problems to depict the situation to be much worse than reality.
A good example is last week’s news story by the NBC News’ foreign correspondent Ali Arouzi, entitled “Karzai: a ‘prisoner in his palace’?” Almost every statement in this piece is factually inaccurate and misleading. Here is an excerpt:
Afghanistan seems as fragile as ever. There is a sense that with the U.S.-led NATO draw-down expected in 2014 the country could slip back into some of its darkest most socially-restrictive and violent days. Most Afghans you speak to in Kabul or outside of the capital fear that their country will once again be overrun by the Taliban or be engulfed by a civil war… Almost every province that immediately surrounds Kabul is firmly in the hands of the Taliban: Logar, Wardak, Parwan, Kapisa, Laghman, and about 70 percent of Nangarhar are Taliban controlled, according to locals, and they all border Kabul. I recently traveled to Charai Qamber, a small village just about five miles southeast of Kabul’s city limits, to speak with locals and find out what they think of the security situation… I spoke to a man named Babur… He spoke with contempt about America but seemed to be fond of Iran and Pakistan. Not a good sign for winning hearts and minds… We tried to travel to Parwan province – its borders are just about six miles outside of Kabul. But because it is controlled by the Taliban, we only reached the outskirts…
This gives the readers the incorrect impression that the Afghan capital is besieged by the Taliban and is on the verge of collapse – as one reader asks: “What did the troops DO FOR 10 YEARS?? If only a few miles from Kabul is controlled by Taliban — what did they all die for?”
In reality, none of the mentioned provinces are “firmly in the hands of the Taliban.” In the past three years, the insurgent groups have significantly been weakened in provinces around Kabul and the Taliban’s influence is limited to only a few remote districts. To say that 70% of Nangarhar, the third largest populated province in Afghanistan, is controlled by the Taliban is absurd. Major tribes in Nagarhar, such as Shinwari, Mohmand and Jabarkhel, are supportive of the government. Interestingly, the reporter claims his information comes from “locals”, but later admits he had not traveled outside Kabul for security reasons.
It is also ludicrous to say Parwan Province is “controlled by the Taliban.” The Bagram Air Base, the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan, is located in Parwan. There are dozens of national and international NGOs operating in the province and dozens of foreigners travel between Kabul and Parwan on a daily basis. Moreover, most Afghans are not “fond of Iran and Pakistan,” and they see neighboring countries responsible for the unending wars in their country. It was because of the fear of neighbors’ influence that a gathering of 2,000 Afghan tribal leaders from across the country last November voted unanimously in favor of a strategic agreement with the United States, which will allow thousands of American troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond the 2014 withdrawal timeline.
Afghanistan is a vital national security issue for the United States. And the media is doing a disservice to the public by not reflecting the truth about the war.