The Reasoned Review

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A Confusing Afghan Offensive

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C.J. Chivers of The New York Times has generally provided solid reporting out of Afghanistan, if a bit overshadowed by his more accomplished colleague, Dexter Filkins. But today’s non-story on the front page, entitled “Snipers Imperil US Troops in Offensive in Afghanistan” is a rather perplexing.

First, I’m a bit unclear as to how this constitutes news, as such. Did we expect not to be “imperiled” as we forced our way into unfriendly territory? Was it the snipers that were unexpected? But that can’t be it, because the article mentions snipers in a matter-of-fact way – no quotes from generals saying something to the effect that “we just didn’t expect them to shoot at us!” or anything like that.

The story unfolds predictably – US and “Afghan” forces are in danger, they’ve had “close calls”, and then they retaliated with mortars, helicopters and airplanes. This, of course, is absurd in and of itself (countering small arms fire with massive gunships), but we’ve been hearing this for a while, so it fails to shock (or awe).

But then things get even more confusing, as Mr. Chivers attempts to have it both ways:

Over all, most Taliban small-arms fire has been haphazard and ineffective, an unimpressive display of ill discipline or poor skill. But this more familiar brand of Taliban shooting has been punctuated by the work of what would seem to be several well-trained marksmen.

So the Taliban is both “haphazard and ineffective” as well as “well-trained”. Later he mentions the Taliban executing a “complex ambush”. Which is it? Are they ill-disciplined or well-trained?

Then we get the dumbest quote in the whole article.

First the company fired its 60-millimeter mortars, but the Taliban kept firing. Company K escalated after the Third Platoon commander reported by radio that several insurgents had moved into a compound near the canal.

The forward air controller traveling with Company K, Capt. Akil R. Bacchus, arranged for an airstrike.

About a minute later, a 250-pound GPS-guided bomb whooshed past overhead and slammed into the compound with a thunderous explosion.

“Good hit!” said Capt. Joshua P. Biggers, the company commander. “Good hit.”

Yeah, that’s some great sharpshooting with that 250-pound bomb. I feel like I’m in a Kafka novel.

So finally, in the end, we learn that despite being isolated and “constantly challenged” by the Taliban, the K company was able to hold their position until reinforcements arrived yesterday. I guess I just don’t see how any of this is surprising, or warrants a 1,500 word article. And what was the ultimate point of the article? That the Taliban don’t like American soldiers in their country? That the Marja offensive isn’t going well? The first should be self-evident – and the second, if true, wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the article. All we found out is that the Army is encountering “difficulties”, and a few throwaway quotes from officers – quotes that tell us nothing about the situation or how they feel about it.

I mean, I get that we’re supposed to root for the ‘good guys’ here (the US troops) and invest our emotions in their eradication of those bad ol’ Taliban – but that’s why I watch movies. From a newspaper I want, y’know, news.

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Written by pavanvan

February 18, 2010 at 7:30 am

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