The US’ Afghanistan coverage is yet another retelling of an all-American action movie, with American soldiers locked in a race against the clock to save the Afghan people from their villainous enemy.
If you knew nothing about the war that has ravaged Afghanistan since 2001, and your only point of reference were reports aired on American cable news networks during the past two weeks, then you could be forgiven for believing two decades of American military occupation was responsible for keeping the Afghan people safe from the forces of evil.
Stories that tug on the heartstrings of American viewers, including images of US military personnel cradling babies, handing out water bottles to dehydrated men and women and safely herding panicked asylum seekers across the tarmac to outbound C-17 evacuation flights are juxtaposed against those that reaffirm their exaggerated fears of “Islamic” extremism.
And when news outlets aren’t digging up boilerplate stories about the Taliban from 2001 and republishing them as though they were breaking news today, they are airing unnamed, single-source reports, and even those proved later to be false.
What we are witnessing on our television screens is the latest retelling of an all-American action movie, with US soldiers locked in a race against the clock to save the Afghan people from their villainous enemy, a dichotomy reinforced in a narrative that frames Kabul the “civilised” Afghanistan, and the rest of the country an uncivilised “Taliban breeding ground.”
US news outlets are cashing in on this once-a-year television ratings bonanza by simultaneously reaching for the most jingoistic and Islamophobic tropes imaginable, which together are designed to deter Americans from changing the channel and maximise revenues from corporate advertisers.
More to the point – they distort the reality of the conflict and American occupation. Forgotten are the CIA torture dungeons, violent night raids on Afghan homes, brutal operations in villages and the ever-presence of B-52s, helicopter gunships and armed drones in the skies above.
Whether you turn on CNN, Fox News or NBC, you will see footage of American soldiers kissing and holding Afghan babies or handing out water and candy to young Afghan children. Only in America can twenty years of bloodshed and violence in a foreign country be repackaged as a noble humanitarian mission.
But rather than saving the Afghan people from so-called “evil doers,” the US military and its allies were responsible for the lion’s share of civilian casualties and war crimes during the past two decades, as illustrated in a 2020 United Nations report that found they accounted for 52 percent of the 1,400 civilian deaths and 2,400 injuries during the first six months of 2019, with the Taliban responsible for 39 percent.
The higher civilian death toll caused by US and Afghan forces were a direct result of their reliance on airstrikes, a reality affirmed in a recent report by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which found they were responsible for almost 4,000 civilian casualties during the past five years, with children accounting for 40 percent of the death toll.
Almost all these airstrikes and casualties occurred well away from the reach of American television cameras in Kabul, and in the rural areas of the country, where roughly three-quarters of the Afghan population lives.
“In these areas, I’ve met newborns who will never have a memory of their mother or father. Boys who saw their grandparents’ bodies pulled from rubble,” says Azmat Khan, author of Precision Strikes, which documents the way in which the Pentagon grossly underreported civilian casualties stemming from its aerial operations.
“The true scale of civilian deaths from the war in Afghanistan is still unknown. So many have gone uncounted,” she said.
In 2011, Lt. Col. David Flynn admitted to carrying out an order to three Afghan villages to be wiped from the face of the earth, including Tarok Kolache, which was “flattened” with 49,200 pounds of rockets and bombs.
A few months ago, Austrian-Afghan journalist Emran Feroz visited a young Afghan man whose father, a cab driver, was killed, along with four of his passengers, by a US drone strike in Khost province. He was told, “They [Americans] killed a lot of people. Their place is not here.”
Neither this now-fatherless man, nor the other 75 percent of the population that bore the brunt of civilian casualties are running towards the awaiting arms of US soldiers in the Afghan capital, but you wouldn’t know this if your only source of information was the American news media.
The country’s predominately rural population were not employees or beneficiaries of the US government or the corrupt puppet regime it installed in Kabul. Instead, they were relentlessly and mercilessly bombed and attacked by these very same forces. Their mothers, fathers, spouses and children are now buried in the countryside.
Moreover, the media’s fixation on the evacuation of asylum seekers from Kabul whitewashes the fact US military operations in Afghanistan were responsible for creating more than 6 million Afghan refugees, with most finding shelter in neighbouring Pakistan and Iran, not the Afghan capital.
A 2020 report by the United Nations revealed that nearly half of all displaced Afghan children face acute malnutrition and have only very limited access to even basic healthcare services. No evacuation flights are planned for them. They are unworthy victims, evidently.
These are the horrors US mainstream news media outlets shield from their viewers, leaving them completely in the dark about the horrors of America’s longest war, and hyperventilating over a one-dimensional moral panic as it relates to the Taliban.
Surveys show ordinary Americans know very little about Afghanistan, a country the US occupied and bombed for two decades, and it’s likely the current media coverage of the evacuation from Kabul will leave them knowing even less.
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