Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Fiction of Marjah, China Lobs Back


China lobs charges back at United States

By Aileen McCabe, Canwest News Service
Vancouver Sun: March 13, 2010

Not one to turn the other cheek these days, China issued a report Friday on
human rights violations by the U.S.

A day after the State Department pointed the finger at China in its annual
report on human rights abuses in 194 countries, Beijing responded in kind,
accusing Washington of "posing as the world judge of human rights again."

The Chinese said the U.S. continues to "turn a blind eye to, or dodge and
even cover up rampant human rights abuses on its own territory."

And it aimed at Washington's jugular, stating: "At a time when the world is
suffering a serious human rights disaster caused by the U.S. subprime
crisis-induced global financial crisis, the U.S. government still ignores
its own serious human rights problems but revels in accusing other

China claimed: "The United States with its strong military power has pursued
hegemony in the world, trampling upon the sovereignty of other countries and
trespassing their human rights."

It cited as evidence abuses that were reported in the media and by the
United Nations in Afghanistan, Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The State Department report criticized Chinese censorship of the Internet
and China lobbed the charge right back at the Americans.

"The United States is pushing its hegemony under the pretence of Internet
freedom," it said. "The United States monopolizes the strategic resources of
the global Internet, and has been retaining a tight grip over the Internet
ever since its first appearance."

The Chinese also charged: "While advocating 'freedom of speech,' 'freedom of
the press' and 'Internet freedom,' the U.S. government unscrupulously
monitors and restricts the citizens' rights to freedom when it comes to its
own interests and needs." It used examples of U.S. wiretapping,
eavesdropping and hacking in the name of the War on Terror to prove its

China also claimed jobless and homeless people were so prevalent in the U.S.
now that "workers' economic, social and cultural rights cannot be

It chided the U.S. for allowing endemic inequality, saying, "racial
discrimination is still a chronic problem of the United States." And it
added: "The living conditions of women and children in the United States are
deteriorating and their rights are not properly guaranteed."

The Chinese report relies heavily on articles published in the U.S. media,
without ever acknowledging that no Chinese media outlet would ever be able
to scrutinize or hold to account the government in Beijing to such an
extent. The tit-for-tat human rights reports are just the latest in a series
of clashes between the U.S. and China in recent months that have badly
frayed relations between Beijing and Washington.

There is increasing talk that an upcoming U.S. Treasury report will label
China a currency manipulator. If that happens, Chinese President Hu Jintao
might easily postpone his state visit to Washington, which many expected to
come as early as April.
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Fiction of Marjah as City Was US Information War

by: Gareth Porter
Inter Press Service: March 9, 2010

For weeks, the U.S. public followed the biggest offensive of the Afghanistan
War against what it was told was a "city of 80,000 people" as well as the
logistical hub of the Taliban in that part of Helmand. That idea was a
central element in the overall impression built up in February that Marja
was a major strategic objective, more important than other district centres
in Helmand.

It turns out, however, that the picture of Marja presented by military
officials and obediently reported by major news media is one of the clearest
and most dramatic pieces of misinformation of the entire war, apparently
aimed at hyping the offensive as a historic turning point in the conflict.

Marja is not a city or even a real town, but either a few clusters of
farmers' homes or a large agricultural area covering much of the southern
Helmand River Valley.

"It's not urban at all," an official of the International Security
Assistance Force (ISAF), who asked not to be identified, admitted to IPS
Sunday. He called Marja a "rural community".

"It's a collection of village farms, with typical family compounds," said
the official, adding that the homes are reasonably prosperous by Afghan

Richard B. Scott, who worked in Marja as an adviser on irrigation for the
U.S. Agency for International Development as recently as 2005, agrees that
Marja has nothing that could be mistaken as being urban. It is an
"agricultural district" with a "scattered series of farmers' markets," Scott
told IPS in a telephone interview.

The ISAF official said the only population numbering tens of thousands
associated with Marja is spread across many villages and almost 200 square
kilometres, or about 125 square miles.

Marja has never even been incorporated, according to the official, but there
are now plans to formalise its status as an actual "district" of Helmand

The official admitted that the confusion about Marja's population was
facilitated by the fact that the name has been used both for the relatively
large agricultural area and for a specific location where farmers have
gathered for markets.

However, the name Marja "was most closely associated" with the more specific
location, where there are also a mosque and a few shops.

That very limited area was the apparent objective of "Operation Moshtarak",
to which 7,500 U.S., NATO and Afghan troops were committed amid the most
intense publicity given any battle since the beginning of the war.

So how did the fiction that Marja is a city of 80,000 people get started?

The idea was passed on to the news media by the U.S. Marines in southern
Helmand. The earliest references in news stories to Marja as a city with a
large population have a common origin in a briefing given Feb. 2 by
officials at Camp Leatherneck, the U.S. Marine base there.

The Associated Press published an article the same day quoting "Marine
commanders" as saying that they expected 400 to 1,000 insurgents to be
"holed up" in the "southern Afghan town of 80,000 people." That language
evoked an image of house to house urban street fighting.

The same story said Marja was "the biggest town under Taliban control" and
called it the "linchpin of the militants' logistical and opium-smuggling
network". It gave the figure of 125,000 for the population living in "the
town and surrounding villages". ABC news followed with a story the next day
referring to the "city of Marja" and claiming that the city and the
surrounding area "are more heavily populated, urban and dense than other
places the Marines have so far been able to clear and hold."

The rest of the news media fell into line with that image of the bustling,
urbanised Marja in subsequent stories, often using "town" and "city"
interchangeably. Time magazine wrote about the "town of 80,000" Feb. 9, and
the Washington Post did the same Feb. 11.

As "Operation Moshtarak" began, U.S. military spokesmen were portraying
Marja as an urbanised population centre. On Feb. 14, on the second day of
the offensive, Marine spokesman Lt. Josh Diddams said the Marines were "in
the majority of the city at this point."

He also used language that conjured images of urban fighting, referring to
the insurgents holding some "neighbourhoods".

A few days into the offensive, some reporters began to refer to a "region",
but only created confusion rather than clearing the matter up. CNN managed
to refer to Marja twice as a "region" and once as "the city" in the same
Feb. 15 article, without any explanation for the apparent contradiction.

The Associated Press further confused the issue in a Feb. 21 story,
referring to "three markets in town - which covers 80 square miles…."

A "town" with an area of 80 square miles would be bigger than such U.S.
cities as Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh and Cleveland. But AP failed to
notice that something was seriously wrong with that reference.

Long after other media had stopped characterising Marja as a city, the New
York Times was still referring to Marja as "a city of 80,000", in a Feb. 26
dispatch with a Marja dateline.

The decision to hype up Marja as the objective of "Operation Moshtarak" by
planting the false impression that it is a good-sized city would not have
been made independently by the Marines at Camp Leatherneck.

A central task of "information operations" in counterinsurgency wars is
"establishing the COIN [counterinsurgency] narrative", according to the Army
Counterinsurgency Field Manual as revised under Gen. David Petraeus in 2006.

That task is usually done by "higher headquarters" rather than in the field,
as the manual notes.

The COIN manual asserts that news media "directly influence the attitude of
key audiences toward counterinsurgents, their operations and the opposing
insurgency." The manual refers to "a war of perceptions…conducted
continuously using the news media."

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of ISAF, was clearly preparing to wage
such a war in advance of the Marja operation. In remarks made just before
the offensive began, McChrystal invoked the language of the
counterinsurgency manual, saying, "This is all a war of perceptions."

The Washington Post reported Feb. 22 that the decision to launch the
offensive against Marja was intended largely to impress U.S. public opinion
with the effectiveness of the U.S. military in Afghanistan by showing that
it could achieve a "large and loud victory."

The false impression that Marja was a significant city was an essential part
of that message.

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