The Afghanistan success story

Most of the American media have continuously misreported the NATO mission in Afghanistan as a disaster unfolding, beginning before the effort even began, with warnings of the "brutal Afghan winter." More recently, the media are representing that the Taliban is "resurgent" (when in fact it was NATO that was on the offensive), that the NATO alliance is crumbling, and that Afghanistan is all but lost. I have shown that statements from NATO leaders have gone almost completely ignored when they do not sustain the "losing in Afghanistan" narrative.

I remember one article in which the writer declared that the Taliban had "vast swaths of unchallenged territory, including rural areas." The truth of the matter was that NATO forces had pushed the Taliban out of the towns and villages and into the wastelands. But even a clear victory finds the media unable to represent the truth of the matter that we are holding, expanding and rebuilding in Afghanistan. To be sure, there are challenges ahead but the general trend is one of victory, not defeat.

Last week at a NATO/International Security Assistance Force summit in Bucharest, ISAF leaders reaffirmed their commitment to Afghanistan and released a report which supports my argument. The report, Progress in Afghanistan, belies the current media dictum in its' very name. But the revelations in the report shred the media template to the point of making it incontestable that the American public is the victim of journalistic malpractice concerning Afghanistan.

The report begins with this salient foreword:

The conclusion we draw from this report is simple: this broad international effort to help Afghanistan build a more stable and secure future is achievable, and it is being achieved. Of course, real challenges remain, and this will be a long-term effort; but the information contained in this report gives reason for optimism.

Despite media caterwauling about looming failure NATO is claiming partial success. Many media reports have made much of a rise in violent incidents in Afghanistan in 2007 claiming it demonstrates a stronger Taliban/al Qaeda force. NATO leaders have made the response (largely ignored by the media) that the increase in fighting is due to NATO expansion, not Taliban resurgence. This report squarely backs that claim:

In 2007, the direct engagement of Afghan National Army (ANA) and ISAF routinely defeated militants. Although the overall number of security incidents across Afghanistan has increased, this corresponds to the expansion of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and NATO-ISAF operations to areas formerly considered to be extremist strongholds.

NATO clearly indicates that contrary to media reporting of a Taliban expansion, the Taliban has experienced constraints in its' operating space. It controls less than 6% of the people. Considering that the areas they now control are really their own homes and villages, apart from a scorched earth policy, there's not much more that NATO can do than to wait for them to come down from the hills and fight then flee back to their villages. This NATO study runs counter to media claims that the Taliban is controlling more territory:

Since 2003, NATO-ISAF has gradually extended its reach and is now responsible for security across the whole country. [....]

In 2007, 70% of security incidents were confined to 10% of Afghanistan's 398 Districts. These districts contain less than 6% of the Afghan population.

Another media maxim included in most Afghanistan reporting is that the NATO alliance is fractured. In fairness, the media has had some prompting by government officials who seek to pressure NATO allies to commit more troops. However, warning of potential failure without increased commitment as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has done repeatedly is not the same as claiming that NATO is losing, as the media still does routinely. Again from the NATO report: 

The number of our troops has grown steadily from the initial 5,000 in Kabul to the current 47,000 ISAF personnel in theatre. Today, large parts of the country are relatively stable with no or very few security incidents per month even if the security situation in southern Afghanistan and parts of the East remains challenging for international and Afghan security forces. There is room for cautious optimism.

Keep in mind that even as this report was being written France, USA and the Netherlands were committing even more combat troops. Far from fracturing, this alliance has strengthened throughout the course of the mission.

Here are a dozen more facts from the report you are unlikely to see in media reporting:

  1. The Afghan Army is growing in size, experience, and leadership capabilities.
  2. A recent study found that 90% of the Afghan population trusted the countries military force.
  3. More than 4,000 km of roads have been built where only 50 km existed in 2001.
  4. The rehabilitation of the North-East power system has advanced and access of the rural households to electricity has been significantly increased.
  5. In 2007 alone, ISAF nations completed 1,080 civil-military cooperation (CIMIC) projects.
  6. 2,000 schools were built or repaired in the last five years and around 6.4 million children (including 1.5 million girls) are now in schools.
  7. Since 2001, both infant and under-five mortality has declined by 26% and 22% respectively.
  8. In 2001, 8% of Afghans had access to some form of healthcare. Now more than 80% of the population has access to medical care.
  9. The non-opium economy has grown at an average of 12% over the past four years; the number of poppy-free provinces has grown from six in 2006 to 13 in 2007.
  10. Afghan public support for international involvement in Afghanistan remains high with around 70% of Afghans supporting the presence of international forces.
  11. The majority of Afghans believe their country is going in the right direction and 84% support their current government (as opposed to 4% who would support the Taliban).
  12. They also maintain a positive view of reconstruction efforts with 63% saying that reconstruction efforts in their area have been effective since 2002.

Yet all of this good news goes nearly unreported in the American media in favor of a "resurgent Taliban" narrative. At some point, media consumers must not only question the media narrative but the cause of this distorted reporting. We can only conclude that the disparate nature of the facts from the reporting points to nothing less than purposely biased reporting at America's journalistic institutions.

Michelle Malkin recently alluded to the American media misreporting of the Tet Offensive. Her discussion referred to a historical study of the media reporting versus what really happened in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive that found the media narrative drove the reporting, not the events. We are now experiencing another Tet Offensive in Afghanistan, not from the enemy forces, but from an enemy media that seeks to put a Democrat in the White House by discrediting anything our military has accomplished, as long as the Commander-in-Chief is a Republican.

Ray Robison is co-author of Both in One Trench.