COMMENTS: Counterinsurgency is Making Progress in Afghanistan (Sort Of)

Only ABC made the correct call and decided to lead its newscast with President Barack Obama's strategy review of the Pentagon's counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan. The review, and accompanying features on Afghanistan, was the Story of the Day with ABC and NBC filing from the White House, and ABC and CBS filing from the Pentagon. The other two newscasts led with a human interest follow-up on Wednesday's Story of the Day: both profiled Mike Jones, the school safety officer who wounded a suicidal gunman at a Florida school board meeting.

No surprise, Commander-in-Chief Obama decided that the War in Afghanistan, after nine years, was worth continuing because the 100,000 troops there are making progress. Then came the kicker: the progress is "fragile and reversible," a phrase quoted by ABC's Jake Tapper and NBC's Savannah Guthrie. ABC's Martha Raddatz noted that the Pentagon's counterinsurgency doctrine teaches a three-step process Clear, Hold, Build: "Even in the south, where they cited progress today, those areas they are just clearing; they are not really holding at this point--and they are certainly not building.

Last week, ABC ran a series on Afghanistan with the title Can We Win? These are the three reports (by George Stephanopoulos, Martha Raddatz & Nick Schifrin) in which the question was never answered one way or the other. The White House report was just as evasive.

Let's tick off the problems that NBC's Guthrie accused the report of "largely soft-pedaling": safe havens for guerrillas in Pakistan (cited by CBS' David Martin, ABC's Tapper & NBC's Guthrie); lack of domestic support for the war (Tapper & Guthrie); Hamid Karzai's corrupt government (Martin & Guthrie); the high desertion rate in the Afghan army (Martin). ABC's Tapper introduced his colleague Schifrin: "In Kandahar City, the focus of so much US attention, the Taliban are still able to assassinate government employees and that means Afghans there are so scared, two-thirds of all government jobs are unfilled."

ABC's John Donvan followed up on the 1,400 US military dead in the past nine years of fighting shipped home in flag-draped coffins: most of the time "they come in unseen, with the rest of the cargo." CBS had Terry McCarthy file from Safar Bazaar in Afghanistan for his series Following the Thundering Third. He followed up on August's excellent Hurt Locker features (here and here) on the Marine Corps' bomb disposal efforts. Meet Sgt Matthew Jackson and his molecular tattoos.


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