Tuesday, August 9, 2011

McClatchy's War Reporting Falters

Jonathan Landay, Nancy Youssef, and Warren Strobel, McClatchy's crack War Correspondent team in better days

McClatchy/Knight-Ridder has had an outstanding and deserved reputation for accurate and insightful war reporting since the days when they were essentially the only mainstream news outfit questioning the propaganda leading up to the Iraq invasion.

Jonathan Landay, Warren Strobel (now with Reuters), and Nancy Youssef have been far and away some of the finest reporters on the War Beat for years.

So imagine my surprise to read this morning's McClatchy story on the Chinook Down in Afghanistan. It was riddled with war propaganda from beginning to end, and it clearly obscured the real story behind veils of nonsense and deceit. What has happened to McClatchy?

It should be noted up front, however, that the quick, indeed almost immediate, acknowledgement that the Chinook was shot down by the rebels is almost unprecedented in our Imperial March through the Hindu Kush. For years, helicopter losses in the Battles and Occupations were never acknowledged to be due to the actions of the Jibbering Natives, it was always due to "mechanical failure," "dust," or "undetermined." So the public has no idea at all how many "Coalition" helicopters have been shot down during the various Imperial Wars of Aggression, nor, until this incident, that Our Valiant Forces could be shot from the air by the Primitives.

As for the McClatchy story by Jonathan Landay and Nancy Youssef about it today it opens promisingly:

KABUL, Afghanistan — Two Pentagon officials told McClatchy on Monday that an investigation into the helicopter crash that killed 30 American troops would probe whether it's a mistake to send the large, lumbering Chinook helicopter into a Taliban firefight, where it's a target for insurgents.

Indeed. Mistakes were made, and sending a troop-filled Chinook to an ongoing firefight in Afghanistan may have been one of them.

As the remains of the 30 troops killed in the military's deadliest incident of the Afghan war were being flown back to the United States, U.S. commanders confirmed that the servicemen were flying to the aid of American troops embroiled in a firefight when an insurgent shot down their helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade.

Good heavens! How can that be? A single Jibbering Native, armed with sticks and poo, was able to bring down a giant helicopter filled with America's Finest, a military working dog, and several Native Auxiliaries (except the dog and the Auxiliaries aren't mentioned...) how can that be???

The U.S.-led military coalition in Afghanistan offered the first detailed account of the tragedy since the pre-dawn crash in the Tangi Valley, a Taliban-infested area of Wardak province, about 60 miles southwest of Kabul, the capital.

Here we go, getting into the propaganda now. Note the highlighted text:

  • Depends on your point of view, doesn't it? Certainly the Afghan rebels don't consider it a tragedy, nor in fact, would very many American anti-war activists really consider the loss of Americans a tragedy under the circumstances.

    "Taliban infested"

  • Oh, really. The Taliban, in the context of Afghanistan, are an "infestation?" How does that work, since they are Native rebels against the Empire, not all that different from the Afghan rebels against the Soviets, remember them?

"The helicopter was reportedly fired on by an insurgent rocket-propelled grenade while transporting the U.S. service members and commandos to the scene of an ongoing engagement," said a statement released by the International Security Assistance Force.

Actually, it's surprising they would say such a thing so soon after the helicopter was downed. In the past, the "coalition" has tended to lie and fabricate and dissemble whenever any incident occurs.

The Pentagon announced that the return of the servicemen's remains, in flag-draped coffins, to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware possibly as early as Tuesday won't be open to the news media, although family members will be allowed to attend. The ceremony will be closed to the public because there were "no identifiable remains," said Marine Col. David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman. As of Monday night, military officials hadn't publicly released the names of the dead, although family members had confirmed many of the names to reporters.

"No identifiable remains" -- yet the remains are being returned in flag-draped coffins to Dover? How, exactly, does that work? Sounds like pure emotional propaganda to me, meaningless and yet filled with the "tragedy" of it all. Warriors' "remains" returned to the Homeland, though "no identifiable remains" remain... In other words, what is being returned?

Separately, two Defense Department officials told McClatchy that a military investigation into the crash would ask whether dropping a Chinook into the middle of a battle is too dangerous now. Before the incident, the Taliban rarely had shot down a Chinook, bolstering commanders' confidence that the military could use the aircraft, which can carry more people than the Black Hawk helicopter, under such circumstances.

Hold on. "Too dangerous now?" Because they shot one down, or because THIS one was shot down? Or... is it something else? A great deal of backstory is being left out. The Jibbering Natives "rarely shot down a Chinook." So the commanders had all-important "confidence" that sending a Chinook load of troops into battle was "safe?" What is it, exactly, they are trying -- and failing -- to say out loud? It was "safe" beforetime, but it isn't now? If not, why not? And where are these Jibbering Natives getting their rocket propelled grenades (which were so devastating against the Soviets back in the day? But we knew where they came from then: the USofA.)

But just two weeks earlier, on July 25, the Taliban used a rocket-propelled grenade to shoot down a Chinook in eastern Afghanistan's Kunar province, injuring two U.S. service members. That Chinook was struck in the bottom and was forced to make a hard landing, defense officials said.

They did, did they? This is yet another admission of the effectiveness of the Natives against Our Valiant Troops, or at least their transport. Or is it?

On Saturday, officials said, the grenade struck the middle of the helicopter, essentially splitting it in midair, killing everyone on board.

The "officials" are even saying how it was done, when in times gone by, they wouldn't even admit that it was done at all. Whoa.

Area residents told McClatchy by phone that the ground forces and the Taliban were in the midst of a firefight less than a mile from the crash site.

Wait a minute. This is supposed to be a remote, "Taliban-infested" valley, the way they all are in Afghanistan, where a firefight was going on just a few days before, and yet the McClatchy reporters are able to establish telephone (cell-phone? iPad?) communication with the Natives to get their side of the story? Mmm. Interesting. Technology progresses no matter what.

President Barack Obama said that the incident, while tragic, wouldn't deter American forces from the fight in Afghanistan, now in its 10th year. U.S. forces have begun to withdraw 33,000 "surge" troops from the country, a drawdown that's expected to be completed in September 2012.

"We will press on and we will succeed," Obama said. "Our troops will continue the hard work of transitioning to a stronger Afghan government and ensuring that Afghanistan is not a safe haven for terrorists."

Very Churchillian, yes? Catapult that Propaganda!

Gen. John Allen, the commander of the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan, said: "We will continue to relentlessly pressure the enemy and we will continue to develop the Afghan National Security Forces so that on their strong, broad shoulders they can defeat this insurgency and bring lasting and enduring peace to this historic land and this great people."

Hell, it's War of the Worlds. Existential Propaganda! Oh, but, they, the Afghan Natives, will have to shoulder the burden manfully. No more will Our Valiant Ones expose themselves to Un-Safety like this. No more. Let the Natives do it. Well. Now that's potentially news.

According to the coalition statement, Saturday's incident began when U.S. ground troops became engulfed in a battle with Taliban forces armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers and AK-47s. The troops were flying to the aid of other U.S. service members who'd gone into the Tangi Valley in search of an unidentified Taliban leader who oversaw "insurgent operations" in the remote area, the ISAF statement said.

"Engulfed?" Oh, fergawdsake. According to reports, there are no more than a few tens of al Qaeda, and perhaps a few hundred Taliban in all of Afghanistan. How is it possible for Our Valiant Ones to be "engulfed" by such a paltry -- and primitive -- force of malcontents and Anti-Afghan Elements? There aren't enough of them in the whole country to "engulf" anyone. Oh, but such loaded language does help to enhance the heroism of Our Valiant Ones, so there is that.

"After commencing the search, the initial security force on the ground observed several insurgents, armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers and AK-47 assault rifles, moving through the area," the statement said. "The security force and the insurgents exchanged small arms fire, resulting in several enemies killed."

Well good. It's always important that The Enemy take substantial losses in any engagement with Our Valiant Ones. But why is McClatchy repeating this obvious propaganda release without comment? Ordinarily, they would simply refer to it, not quote it extensively. "The Coalition headquarters said that thus and so was going on, but the facts cannot be independently confirmed in detail at this time." Instead, they just present the PIO's statement uncritically. Odd for McClatchy.

The soldiers asked for backup, and 33 people — Navy SEALs, airmen and Afghan special forces — climbed into a Chinook and headed to battle, led by five crewmen.

This account differs from previous ones, and it significantly confuses matters. "33 People... climbed into... ." Uh. "Led by five crewmen." Uh. So that's 38, right? But previously, we were told there were 31 Americans and 7 Afghans, one of whom was an interpreter. And a dog. Who were killed. Still 38, but the dog isn't mentioned, and the crew is no longer "people?" Well... minor points. And now it is Narrative, not direct quotes from the PIO's press release. Hmm. Interesting.

When a Chinook lands, it descends slowly to the ground, and on Saturday it did so into a remote area where there was no surrounding base to offer protection. Even under the best of circumstances, military officials say, the landing is most vulnerable part of the flight. In Afghanistan, amid fierce fighting, it's the best chance the Taliban have of killing dozens of troops at one time.

More Narrative, though obviously based on PIO statements and press releases, "explaining" how apparently vulnerable these giant helicopters are in such fierce circumstances. Who knew? No one could have predicted.

Those killed aboard the twin-rotor CH-47 Chinook included "five aircrew and 25 personnel from the U.S. Special Operations Command," said the statement, which withheld the identities of the victims and their units.

Back to quoting the Statement, which is the basis for the Narrative, too. And yet the Unit (Navy Seals, same unit that double-tapped Osama, they tell us) has been named in other reports, why not this one?

Many of the dead reportedly were from the same Navy SEAL contingent from which was drawn the unit that killed Osama bin Laden in the al Qaida leader's hideout in Pakistan in May.

But there is no Official Confirmation. It's just "known." Um-kay. That does make it dramatic, yes? Which helps catapult the propaganda. Oh yes.

Also killed were an Afghan interpreter and seven Afghan commandos.

Yes, well. Them. Poor devils. WHAT ABOUT THE DOG?

After the crash, the unit on the ground "broke contact" with the insurgents, moved to the crash site, secured it and searched for survivors, the ISAF said.

More press release. No reporting. Just parrotting. Sigh. If there were no identifiable remains, there were self-evidently no survivors. If the machine broke in two and crashed (as reported previously) the crash site was likely extensive, eh? Or... not. Depending on how close the craft was to the ground when it was shot down.

Wait. What really happened here?

The investigation to determine the "exact cause" of the crash was ongoing, the statement said. It was the deadliest incident the U.S. military had suffered in Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

Read more: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2011/08/08/119952/pentagon-to-reconsider-landing.html#storylink=omni_popular#ixzz1UYCIQCDD

As I said, what really happened here, and will we ever know?

Is the shoot-down by Jibbering Natives actually a cover story for something else, even worse? [Note: I shouldn't leave it dangling like that. What I mean by "something worse" is Friendly Fire.]

It is really surprising that McClatchy would allow themselves to falter so significantly on this story and that the reporters would simply parrot the official statement rather than being proactive in trying to find out what actually happened and reporting their progress (or lack thereof) in doing so.

This report seems to have been ordered up by Corporate, and the reporters complied, perhaps unwillingly.

We won't know any time soon. Meanwhile, anyone who is following McClatchy's ongoing financial struggles (and profit squeezing) knows that the days of this formerly top-notch journalistic outfit are numbered.


  1. Here's a long quote from an old War Nerd article:

    "The Afghans worked out how to use RPGs as AA back in the 80s, fighting the Soviets. I guess it was a little bit of poetic justice that the first helicopters to get brought down were Russian. The Afghans didn't have much to use against choppers except captured Russian heavy 14.5 cal. machineguns, which didn't have enough punch to bring down the Mi-24. And Reagan, the wimpiest hawk that ever flew, waited five long years to give the Mujahideen the Stingers that could take down an Mi-24 every time. So the Afghans started playing around with using the RPG against Russian CAS.

    They came up with some great improvisations. There's nothing like war to bring out the inventor in people! One thing the Afghans figured out was how to use the self-destruct device in the warhead to turn the RPG into an airburst SA missile. See, the RPG comes with a safety feature designed to self-destruct after the missile's gone 920 meters. So if you fire on up at a chopper from a few hundred meters away, at the right angle, you get an airburst just as effective as SA missiles that cost about a thousand times more."

    Most Valuable Weapon: the RPG

  2. Of course the Afghans could have shot it down -- as they so successfully shot down all those Soviet helicopters. I don't doubt their abilities in these matters.

    What strikes me as distinctly odd about this particular story though is

    1) McClatchy's war correspondents are parroting Public Affairs releases and unnamed "officials" about what happened. These reporters will usually do their own investigation and report on what they are finding as they proceed. They apparently had an Afghan phone contact on the ground very near the operation, though. So there is that.

    2) The military admitted right away that the helicopter was shot down by enemy fire, something they almost never acknowledge immediately -- and in some cases, they don't acknowledge it at all. And they then went on to detail HOW the Wogs did the dastardly deed, something I don't think I've ever seen in a press release out of the military before.

    Those two factors are red flags to me because they don't fit previous responses to similar events. McClatchy reporters don't (usually) report that way, and the military doesn't usually say straight out "this is what happened" -- unless they are lying.

    So. Was it something else? Even friendly fire? I don't know. But the helicopter was apparently in proximity to the ongoing firefight, and it was apparently landing to deposit troops, which would have put it very near "Coalition" troops. Who use rocket propelled grenades and similar weapons themselves. Frequently.

    Accidents and mistakes happen all too often in battles. It could have happened here. Which would be a reason why we might not be getting the truth in this incident any more than we were initially given the truth of what happened to Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch.

  3. Oh, I didn't figure you were doubting it, I just liked that description of Afghan ingenuity.

    It is a little weird for them to admit it was shot down. As you say, they never do that. It's always some inconvenient mechanical failure. Or dust. You'd think it would be more embarrassing to admit that our very expensive death machines were vulnerable to dust, but apparently they feel that enemy victories are worse.

    I wonder if we'll ever know the real truth here?