Gorgeous long read. Triumphs and tragedies of young American coaching pickup basketball team in Jalalabad. Starts well. Team thrives, gets invited to tournament in Kabul. Then the problems start. Small ones first, lethal ones later.
In the days following the rogue US soldier’s shooting spree in Kandahar, most of the media, us included, focused on the “backlash” and how it might further strain the relations with the US.
Many mainstream media outlets channelled a significant amount of energy into uncovering the slightest detail about the accused soldier – now identified as Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. We even know where his wife wanted to go for vacation, or what she said on her personal blog.
But the victims became a footnote, an anonymous footnote. Just the number 16. No one bothered to ask their ages, their hobbies, their aspirations. Worst of all, no one bothered to ask their names.
In honoring their memory, I write their names below, and the little we know about them: that nine of them were children, three were women.
Mohamed Dawood son of Abdullah
Khudaydad son of Mohamed Juma
Shatarina daughter of Sultan Mohamed
Zahra daughter of Abdul Hamid
Nazia daughter of Dost Mohamed
Masooma daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Farida daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Palwasha daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Nabia daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Esmatullah daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Faizullah son of Mohamed Wazir
Essa Mohamed son of Mohamed Hussain
Akhtar Mohamed son of Murrad Ali
Haji Mohamed Naim son of Haji Sakhawat
Mohamed Sediq son of Mohamed Naim
Did you see the image that ran on the front-page of the Los Angeles Times (and other newspapers) depicting the immediate aftermath of a suicide bombing in Afghanistan? It’s terrible. Readers are understandably upset, and many are criticizing the Times for subjecting them to such visual terror. You know where we stand on this, so we’ll spare you our take, but here’s Deputy Managing Editor Colin Crawford (who, the Times says, oversees the paper’s photography staff) explaining the decision:
We never run this type of image without discussions at the highest levels in the newsroom.
We understand that it is a tough image to look at, but we felt the news value of the photo made it worth publishing. We feel that we cannot hide important news from our readers, even when it is unpleasant.
The war in Afghanistan is an important and complicated story, and the violence seems to never end. In these attacks, the fact that it was sectarian violence adds yet another layer to the complexity of the situation.
The photo, while gut-wrenching, shows just how many innocents are being killed. The bodies of dead, maimed and wounded children breaks your heart but also lets you know how indiscriminate the killing has become.
Breaking: Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs, of the notorious US “kill team” in Afghanistan, has been declared guilty by a jury in the murders of three Afghan civilians as well as conspiracy and assault. He recruited other members of his unit to assist him.
The Korengal Valley is said to be the deadliest place in Afghanistan. What was your first impression when you arrived?
It looked like Colorado, like the American west. It was very beautiful. And I just thought what a great place to go camping or kayaking. If it wasn’t Afghanistan, it would be a haven for outdoor adventure sports.
You’ve said that you won’t be returning to war reporting.
Seeing what Tim’s death did to me and my wife and others, a light bulb went on. I didn’t want to be the cause of that pain to the people I’m closest to. I’ve done this for 20 years and there is a point you come to where you’re repeating the same stunt. I’ll continue reporting from overseas but if I find myself getting shot at – this is how I explained it to my wife – I will consider it embarrassing and a personal failure in a similar way to as if I had a car accident.
What are you currently working on?
I’m working on a film about Tim and I’m starting a medical training program for freelance journalists, a three-day training course in battlefield medicine. It will be three times a year in New York, London and Beirut. We’re hoping to make the certification an industry norm in the next few years. Tim’s wound didn’t have to be mortal. He bled out but there are things you can do about that, but no one around him was equipped to do them and so he died.
Photo: Hetherington and Junger in Afghanistan, 2008. © Tim Hetherington
KABUL—The Sept. 11 attacks that triggered the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan also uprooted 16-year-old Abdul Ghattar from his village in war-torn Helmand province, bringing him to a desolate refugee camp on the edge of Kabul.
Yet Mr. Ghattar stared blankly when asked whether he knew about al Qaeda’s strike on the U.S., launched a decade ago from Afghan soil.
“Never heard of it,” he shrugged as he lined up for water at the camp’s well, which serves thousands of fellow refugees. “I have no idea why the Americans are in my country.”The events of Sept. 11, 2001, of course, are known to educated Afghans, and to many residents of big cities. But that isn’t always the case elsewhere in a predominantly rural country where 42% of the population is under the age of 14, and 72% of adults are illiterate. With few villages reached by television or electricity, news here is largely spread by word of mouth.
In Iraq, US soldiers mark an important milestone — the first full month without a single fatality since the start of the war — just as their Afghanistan counterparts mourn the losses suffered during the deadliest month yet in the decade-long war.
66 service members were killed in the Afghani theater in August — nearly half in the deadly downing of a Chinook helicopter by Taliban insurgents on August 6th.
10,000 troops are expected to leave Afghanistan by the end of the year, with 23,000 drawing down by next summer; but 68,000 will be left behind with no exact exit date. In Iraq, where 4,465 soldiers have died since 2003, 48,000 troops remain.
Though a death-free month serves to boost morale, it is important to note that August follows the deadliest month in three years, and it may be too early to tell if indeed the American-aided Iraqi offensive against Iran-backed militias is truly working to stabilize the country, or if the last month was merely “a statistical blip.”
This is an interesting interactive graphic on where opinion leaders from political office, the media, academia and think tanks stand on the Afghan War. It was created by the Afghanistan Study Group to accompany their new report: “A New Way Forward: Rethinking US Strategy in Afghanistan.” Downloadable here.
Where do you stand with everybody here?
We’ve heard this before, but The Washington Post has an attention-grabbing headline this morning: “U.S. officials believe al-Qaeda on brink of collapse.” More specifically, The Post cites closed-door meetings between counter terrorism officials and says that “a widespread view at the CIA and other agencies [is] that a relatively small number of additional blows could effectively extinguish the Pakistan-based organization.” Osama bin Laden’s death at the hands of the Navy SEAL team was referred to as “the turning point.”
Beyond bin Laden, “we have eliminated a number of generations of leaders,” said a senior U.S. counterterrorism official. “They have not had a successful operation in a long time. You at some point have to ask yourself, ‘What else do we have to do?’”
The war in Afghanistan is not yet over - but the latest news is that 33,000 US troops will be withdrawn by the summer of 2012. The first 5,000 would return next month, with another 5,000 following by the end of the year.
Since the launch of the Datablog, we have focussed extensively on Afghanistan - trying to use data to make sense of the war there. These are the key things you need to help make the conflict a little clearer.