COMMENTS: Afghanistan Questions

In an astonishing turn of events, all three networks treated Afghanistan as newsworthy without devoting a moment's attention to Iraq. NBC's Brian Williams offered statistical justification for that decision: May was the first month since the invasion of Iraq that the death toll for occupation forces in the Afghan warzone was greater than in Iraq. Williams had returned from last week's reporting trip with stories that went unaired Friday because of his network's saturation coverage of Tim Russert's death. To make up for lost time he played an interview with David McKiernan, the USArmy four-star general who is commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan.

McKiernan agreed with Williams' characterization that Afghanistan is a "narco-state" although he did not elaborate--nor did Williams follow up--as to whether by "state" he meant the government that his troops were supporting. Besides narcotics he characterized "a very porous, uncontrolled, unsecure border" with Pakistan as "one of the great challenges." As for the enemy that NATO is fighting, McKiernan insisted that it is wrong to think of it as Taliban pure and simple: "It is much more than just a religious or ethnic division. A lot of it is fueled by foreign influences, by terrorist organizations." He did not elaborate on what those influences or organizations might be, nor did Williams follow up. McKiernan reflected that "ultimately, strategically, we have to look at this region. I think the answer to the question of what is the outcome that the world needs in this…this region, is bigger than Afghanistan." Was he hinting at extending the war to Iran? Or to Pakistan? The general did not elaborate nor did Williams follow up.

Lara Logan's Exclusive reporting on CBS backed up McKiernan's regional focus and a non-Taliban resistance. On ABC, Jim Sciutto seemed to contradict the general, as he reported on a deployment in Helmand Province where a USMC company has been "locked in close combat with Taliban fighters." Its ten day mission is now in Day 50 "and no one is talking about going home." The Marines, many veterans of Iraq, told Sciutto that Taliban guerrillas are the "better trained enemy." CBS' Logan focused on the non-Taliban northeastern zone controled by warlord Gulbeddin Hekmatyar. Hekmatyar, Logan reminded us, had been "embraced by the US as a freedom fighter" during the resistance to Soviet occupation 20 years ago. Now she reports on a videotape message produced in hiding from in which he denounces President George Bush "as a warmonger and blames him for Iran's meddling in Afghanistan. He says the Iranians are pouring money and weapons into the fight that is destroying his country."


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