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Saturday, August 8

Attack on U.S. base in Afghanistan: Barbara Starr's sources at the Pentagon were right. Plus, Pundita notices something odd at Google News.

From The Los Angeles Times, August 8 - 12 PM:
Deadliest day for Kabul civilians since 2011; scores killed in terror attacks
By ALI M. LATIFI, Special Correspondent reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan
[...]
The latest attack occurred late Friday when Taliban fighters tried to storm a U.S. special forces base, employing a car bomb and other blasts and following with a firefight that lasted more than two hours. 
Nine people were killed in the violence, in the Qasaba neighborhood, eight of them civilians working for international coalition forces. The other was a service member, according to officials.
[...]
A CNN report updated at 5:06 PM EDT and filed by CNN reporters Masoud Popalzai, Barbara Starr and Joshua Berlinger adds this information from their sources at the Pentagon: The service member killed was a American:
The American was killed when a NATO coalition base in the capital city, Kabul, was attacked, a defense official told CNN. Another official told CNN's Barbara Starr that nearly 20 people of varying nationalities were wounded.
Separately, U.S. Army Col. Brian Triebus said in a statement that eight Afghan civilian contractors and four insurgents were also killed in that incident. Triebus also said a coalition service member was killed, but he did not give the nationality of that person.
The attack on the coalition base, Camp Integrity, took place at 10:15 p.m., beginning with an explosion from a suspected suicide bomber followed by insurgents with small arms. The base houses U.S. and coalition troops that help train Afghan forces.
[...]

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the group was responsible for the attack on the NATO base and for a suicide bombing at that took place at the National Police Academy earlier in the day.
By the way I think it's okay that Triebus didn't name the nationality of the serviceperson; the authorization to give out that kind of information probably has to come from the Pentagon and/or the spokesperson for NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Before signing off around 5 this morning I noted that reporting on the attack against a U.S. military base in Afghanistan was confused. Given that the attack might still have been in progress I chalked up the confusion to the fog of war. But I did mention that the first 'breaking news' report I'd heard Saturday evening about the attack had come from a radio station that carried a brief report from CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr. 

Starr, in describing the attack, said it was the third "large complex attack" in Kabul within a 24 hour period.  Yet the latest report I'd found and posted before signing off was from Afghanistan's TOLOnews, which described the attack as being carried out by two gunmen. I noted that didn't sound like a large complex attack. 

It turned out that Starr's sources were correct, although a reasonably complete description of the attack came, surprisingly, not from The New York Times or Associated Press but from The Los Angeles Times.  

So, a big round of applause for LA Times and its special correspondent in Kabul and for Barbara Starr and CNN.  

I don't think it's an inconsequential detail to mention that The New York Times reports on the attack on base, one of which was actually an Associated Press 'wire' report, were not featured on Google News. Not even the Google News "Afghanistan" section, which the reader has to request from Google, carried either Times report.  I had to find the Times reports on Google through the use of keywords.

This is so extraordinary as to be notable. The New York Times is the paper of record when it comes to reporting on international news, and Google News always treats it is such. Not this time.  

Odder still, I saw at 3 PM that Google News prominently featured a USA TODAY report on the attack on the U.S. base. USA TODAY doesn't have correspondents in Afghanistan. And in fact their report leaned heavily on the Associated Press report carried in the NYT while wrongly attributing the AP reporting to the NYT.

Now what's going on with Google News bots?  I don't know, but I can tell you this much:  Both the New York Times report and the AP report that the NYT featured on the attack contain the keyword "Pakistan."   

And no, neither the USA TODAY report was featuring around 3 PM EDT nor the Los Angeles Times one, which Google News got around to featuring around 5 PM EDT, mention Pakistan. (CNN didn't mention Pakistan, either and eventually this afternoon it was featured at Google News.)

Not that I'm in any way insinuating that Google brass would be so anxious to please the U.S. Department of State that they'd fiddle with bots, but in an attempt to even the playing field a little at Google News, I'll feature what the paper of record and AP had to say about Pakistan in their reports on the bombings in Kabul yesterday:


Afghan Capital on Edge After Attacks Kill at Least 44 People
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS via The New York Times
AUG. 8, 2015, 1:34 P.M. E.D.T.
[...]
The appointment of Mullah Omar's replacement, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, has sparked dissent within the Taliban. That's also raised questions about the peace process that Ghani has made pivotal to his presidency. After a series of informal talks, a first formal, face-to-face round of negotiations was held in Pakistan on July 7. The announcement of Mullah Omar's death saw future talks cancelled.
However, many seem to take Friday's bombings as a message that the Taliban won't quit fighting — and that Kabul remains a major target.
"Since the death of Mullah Omar, explosions are still happening," Kabul resident Mohammed Zahir said.
"These problems have increased and we can't expect anything from the government."
Later Saturday, hundreds gathered at a candlelight vigil in memory of those who died.
Many blamed Pakistan, long suspected of harboring insurgents, for allowing the attacks in Kabul to take place. They burned Pakistani currency with the candles lit to remember the dead.
"Our nation is in mourning," said Aryan Afghan, who took part in the vigil.
In Handling Barrage of Attacks, Afghan Forces Show Training Is Paying Off
By ROD NORDLAND
AUG. 8, 2015
The New York Times
Afghan officials were quick to blame the intelligence agencies of “neighboring countries” — code for Pakistan, which has long sheltered the Haqqani network and given sanctuary to the Taliban’s leadership.
"The insurgents carry out such attacks targeting civilians in order to attract the attention of the world, and to hide their failures on the battleground,” said Brig. Gen. Dawlat Waziri, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense.
“On the front lines they’ve been defeated by the Afghan national security forces, so that’s why they resort to conducting suicide attacks.”
General Waziri added that 97 percent of would-be attacks by the insurgents are thwarted by Afghan government forces before they can take place.
But Nordland's report goes on to note:
Nonetheless, the barrage of attacks on Friday made it not only the single deadliest day in Kabul this year, but the deadliest in many years. The attacks, which caused the first American military fatality since June, were also proof that even American soldiers, now here in greatly reduced numbers and on mostly a training and advising mission, are still vulnerable.
While the Taliban’s claims of hundreds of dead were almost certainly wildly inflated, the insurgents did prove that despite the infighting in their leadership they are still able to evade the heavy security cordon around Kabul almost at will, and mount sophisticated, large-scale attacks.
All three of the attacks were directed at security targets: a military intelligence headquarters for the Ministry of Defense; the Kabul Police Academy’s training facility; and an American and coalition military base, Camp Integrity, just north of Kabul’s international airport.
The fighting there was so intense that an American soldier was killed along with eight military contractors, according to a statement from the United States military.
General Waziri also doesn't mention that the terrorists' strategy this year has been to run the Afghan military ragged by striking all over the country. So while the military has racked up great successes, they have come at an unacceptably high cost, which they cannot hope to sustain.  

This point was conceded just last week by the top American military commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. John Campbell, but only after he beat around the bush for several sentences. Finally, though, he came 'round to the unavoidable:
"Over time, we'll come to a point where we're going to say, 'That's the best we can do,' or, 'They're not going to get any farther than that,' or, 'I have six months left, I need to reprioritize and move advisers to something that's going to ... be more important in the long run,' Campbell said."
Attrition is a key problem. The Afghan army loses about 4,000 soldiers a month, mainly because they don't return from leave.
"We've done a deep dive and said, 'Why are they leaving?' It's because you have young soldiers or police who are in Helmand (province) and they've been fighting for two or three years and they haven't had a break," Campbell said.
"When you are fighting all the time and when you need to take a break and you have no other way, then you go back home [on leave] and you don't come back."
That's right, although it didn't take a deep dive to know why forces are deserting; it's been screamingly obvious for months. Most of those troops can't even get paid -- their wives can't even collect their pay for them, so their families ARE GOING WITHOUT FOOD unless the troops desert to get their pay from a designated ATM machine that in many cases is very far away from their deployment.  

As to what could be more important than Afghanistan -- nothing, not when you understand what's really going on there. Afghanistan is The Prize. 

But to the immediate point, the American military and its civilian bosses need to stop flouncing around the world, starting and jumping into armed conflicts, then dropping them when a sexier situation catches their eye. This habit is DESTROYING THE AMERICAN PROJECT AND THE REPUTATION OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE in every single country.  

As to Google News: Don't make me put on a tin foil hat every time I visit from now on. But realize that just as you're using big data analytics to study your readers, they are studying you.    

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