(U-WIRE) MADISON, Wis. – On Sunday, NATO troops in southern Afghanistan, who took over from the U.S.-led coalition in August, finished the two week long Operation Medusa. This operation, consisting of 2,000 troops, focused on the Panjawaii district located southwest of Kandahar. During this operation, NATO reported that they killed at least 400 Taliban fighters and drove another 700 out of the district.
In a region of Afghanistan that has been a Taliban stronghold and a center of poppy cultivation, this is significant news for NATO and American troops serving in Afghanistan.
I looked on the websites for CNN, MSNBC and Fox News for this story on Sunday, but only Fox News still had it on their front webpage only eight hours after these news sources posted this story. CNN considered British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s wife pretending to slap a teenager and the weekend box office revenues for the week more important. (Both stories were posted before the Afghanistan story but lasted longer on CNN’s homepage.) MSNBC’s news stories included an article about the second autopsy on Anna Nicole Smith’s son as more important.
Fox News is not completely innocent. For their main “Top News” sections, there is a section on immigration but none for Afghanistan or Iraq.
In terms of the major American sources of Internet news, the primary news source for 50 million Americans, Afghanistan has vanished from the headlines. One of the major centers of the War on Terrorism has not even been relegated to the bottom of the front homepages: it has disappeared altogether.
Part of the reason that Afghanistan has vanished from the Internet as well as cable and television news is the fact that there are so few reporters actually in Afghanistan. The American Journalism Review reported that there are fewer than 10 full-time reporters in all of Afghanistan. Most of the major print, television and Internet outlets rely on stringers in Islamabad or New Dehli for the latest news from Afghanistan.
Some of the major media outlets have made an attempt to provide more coverage of Afghanistan. Last week, CNN’s Anderson Cooper did report from Afghanistan, though I had to search for five minutes in the Transcripts Section of the “Anderson Cooper 360o” website to find any of his reporting on Afghanistan. Mr. Cooper’s blog and new best-selling book about being a “globetrotting reporter” were on the homepage for his show, but his actual reporting from Kabul was a frustrating hunt among numerous interviews.
Most Americans have little information about Afghanistan, information that is often difficult to understand. Afghanistan is multiethnic and multilingual, and there have been relatively few immigrants from Afghanistan to the United States as compared to South Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. Afghanistan held little interest for the United States until the Soviet-Afghan War. Since the end of that conflict in 1989, Afghanistan held only minimal interest for Americans until Sept. 11, 2001. After Operation Iraqi Freedom began in 2003, Americans yet again have treated Afghanistan as if it has vanished from the map. In truth, few now can even find it on a map. In March, National Geographic found that nine out of 10 young adults could not point out Afghanistan on a map of Asia.
The media has the responsibility to explain Afghanistan in greater detail to the American public. There are dramatic events currently occurring in Afghanistan: an increase of 60 percent in the annual poppy crop, which is used to make 90 percent of the world’s opium; the need for 2,500 more NATO troops in Afghanistan; and a total lack of central government control outside of Kabul. Without information on the Internet and on the news about these events, we are largely in the dark about these events that are shaping the future for our troops in Afghanistan.
Americans had been questioning the war in Iraq, but there has been little talk about the same issues concerning Afghanistan. The same questions the American public is debating about Iraq should also apply to Afghanistan: Is the war right? Has there been true progress in establishing a stable government? Does the war justify the loss of American lives?
The vast majority of the American public could not give educated answers about Afghanistan in part because the American media has largely abandoned Afghanistan. Without continuous coverage concerning Afghanistan from multiple sources, the American public cannot make the choices it needs to make in order to ensure that our government is fighting the right fight, allocating our tax money in the right way, and sacrificing American lives for a just and moral purpose.
Then again, maybe newly-separated conjoined twins are more important to news homepages than reporting on the Taliban resurgence in the heart of the War on Terrorism.