For weeks now, there has been constant chatter about the surge in Afghanistan, centering around operations in the city of Marja. Funny thing . . . .
in spite of all the headlines, and the reports on CNN and Fox and MSNBC, and the diaries on Kos by Setrak, relentlessly churning out feel-good reports on triumphs in Afghanistan . . . there IS no city of Marja:
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".
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.
But . . . but . . . I kept reading all these reports, and how we warned the 80,000 residents of the city they needed to evacuate. Where, pray tell, where did the media get the funny idea we were talking about a city?
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."
Suckers. We're suckers for the time-tested and true disinformation techniques of the military and our government. Like the Tonkin Gulf Incident or the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, or those elusive hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people . . . or more recently the slam-dunk WMD's and the al-Qaeda/Iraqi link the folks who wage our wars, ship obscene amount of our tax dollars to Halliburton of KBR or Blackwater/Xe . . . and spend as much on defense as the rest of the world combined . . . those folks aren't going to balk at telling a few lies if it serves their purposes . . i.e., endless war and fear for the homeland.
It's kind of like those secret wars . . . say the one in Laos, or Cambodia, or arming the Contras or Ollie North's Iran missile deal, or more recently the slam-dunk WMDs or the al Qaeda/Iraq link or the one Pakistani civilian killed for every 2 alleged terrorists or Talibanis killed . . . secret wars are NEVER secret from the people dying under our weaponry. The wars are secret from the American people . . . to the extent possible.