Pentagon complains of ‘negative’ picture of Afghan war
WASHINGTON Ã¢â‚¬â€ The Pentagon on Thursday said US-led forces are making headway against the Taliban, despite what it called an overly gloomy portrayal of the war shaped by media coverage.
US and NATO troops have taken back territory from insurgents over the past year and bolstered security across the country, but the progress has often been “overshadowed” by violence in southern provinces, press secretary Geoff Morrell said.
“Now, we’re far from perfect. We’ve got a long way to go in each of those places,” Morrell told reporters.
“But this notion that there has not been progress made I think is an erroneous one.”
His comments reflected a worry in the Pentagon and NATO about losing control of the “narrative” of the war amid mounting casualties, with media coverage and commentary possibly undermining public confidence that the campaign can be won.
US officials and military commanders this week faced tough questioning from members of Congress, as lawmakers on the left and right cast doubt on the administration’s claims of slow but steady progress in the war.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates last week in Brussels said he was “impatient” with media coverage that sometimes failed to convey overall progress while focusing on difficulties in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand.
Gates told lawmakers on Wednesday it was too early to reach conclusions about the war effort, as a surge of 30,000 troops was still underway and a new strategy introduced only months ago.
The Pentagon on Thursday questioned whether reports from journalists accompanying US units ended up providing an incomplete view of how the war was going.
“If the unit you’re with, embedded with, is having a good day, the war is going well,” Morrell said. “If the unit you’re with is having a (bad) day, the war is going badly.”
“I have mused aloud about how can we find ways to expose people to the broader picture in Afghanistan, so that we’re able to put Helmand and Kandahar in a broader perspective.”
Morrell said there were numerous encouraging signs in Afghanistan, with more progress in areas where US forces deployed earlier, including parts of Helmand where Marine units moved about a year ago.
“The areas where our strategy has been employed the longest have improved the most,” he said, citing the districts of Nawa and Now Zad.
“I think we are beginning to see… a proof of concept in some areas.”
In Marjah in central Helmand, the scene of a much-touted US-led offensive in February, commanders say military and political progress has been slower than expected with the Taliban still exerting influence.
But Morrell said the outcome in Marjah has been positive generally, saying the Taliban lost control of an area they once completely dominated.
“Six months ago, Marjah was the stronghold — the Taliban stronghold in the Helmand River valley. They owned it. They no longer own it,” he said.