As the Northern Alliance routs Taliban soldiers in Kabul and other cities, the news media has been uncannily silent about the Northern Alliance's own history of ruthless human rights violations.
War / Peace
"Any city freed from tyranny is a place of joy," writes Simon Jenkins of the Times of London. "Yesterday the Afghan capital, Kabul, was joyful. Its people lined the streets cheering the demise of their latest oppressors. As the latter fled south, civilized people cried good riddance and wished the Afghans well. Any change must be for the better. Any change is an opportunity." Unfortunately, "I could have written the above paragraph, more or less, in 1996, 1992, 1989, 1973, 1919, 1879, 1841, 1504, 1219 and possibly in 329BC.
The Northern Alliance is using Otilie English, the sister of Republican Congressman Phil English, to head "Operation Ragtag," a low-rent, high-profile public relations offensive to boost financial and military aid for her clients. The Alliance's marketing team works out of English's crowded apartment.
"Here's one sure thing you can learn from watching TV: Almost all of the people who seem to know anything are men," comments Washington Post writer Paul Farhi. "Men know about Afghanistan. They know about anthrax. They know foreign policy and military strategy. They know about terrorism and counter-terrorism.
The Army's 4th Psychological Operations Group, the only US active-duty unit dedicated to psyops, is conducting a campaign to persuade Afghan Taliban troops to defect to the opposition and Afghan civilians to join with the United States in ousting the Taliban. The group consists of about 1,200 soldiers, selected from among Army's brightest, and about 35 civilian analysts, two thirds of whom have doctoral degrees.
In the war in Afghanistan, journalists report what they don't see. Most war dispatches are based on what both U.S. and Taliban officials tell the reporters. There is almost no real reporting. Quetta, the provincial capital of Pakistan's southern Baluchistan province which borders the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, is home to hundreds of Western journalists, both print and television. They depend on Pakistani commandos because it is not safe to move around without protection.
Government needs the media on its side to keep public support in times of war. Journalist Phillip Knightley writes for the Public I, "In democracies like Britain and Australia, with a powerful press and a tradition of dissent, or like the United States, where freedom of expression is constitutionally guaranteed, the media cannot be coerced into supporting the war. They have to be seduced or intimidated into self-censorship.
The totalitarian Taliban regime has never been friendly to human rights or UN relief organizations, but now that it serves their propaganda they are demanding that UN relief agencies that they have consistently harassed "help the people of Afghanistan." A statement released by the Taliban appears aimed primarily at outside media and public opinion.
The Bush administration is launching a major PR offensive this week to sell its Afghanistan bombing campaign to Muslims, and top US PR coordinator Charlotte Beers is working on a TV and advertising campaign to be aired abroad that "could feature American celebrities." However, the US is already tripping over mixed messages, preparing the citizenry at home for a long bloody conflict, while Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld assures foreign leaders and media that the war "might be over in a matter of months," just what they want to hear.
"We all know truth is the first casualty of war. But which side in this conflict is the bigger liar?" writes Andrew Gumbel for the Independent. With al-Jazeera the only television reporting coming from the Taliban territory in Afghanistan and the Pentagon carefully spooning out information to US journalist, it's hard to know what's true. Gumbel looks at a few examples of what the Taliban said, what the Pentagon said, and what we now know.