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Media and the MOAB Strike Aftermath, Updated

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A few days ago I wrote about the conspicuous absence of any news reports of the aftermath of the MOAB strike in Afghanistan. The point of my post was not to declare there had or hadn’t been civilian casualties or civilian collateral damage in the area that was bombed, but simply to say that news organizations and non-governmental organizations likely could not get that information for logistical reasons. That logistical difficulty may very well have been why that particular target was chosen. Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 11.44.46 AM

Someone at The Guardian must have known what I was writing up because that same day a piece on the devastation left by the MOAB was finally published. But let’s note that it took journalists four days to get access to and release the story, which in this day and age is quite a long time.

The first paragraph describes an Afghan commando capturing the moment of the blast with his cell phone. Whatever he caught, we cannot see. Somebody somewhere has likely decided it would be a “security issue” if such images were allowed to be published.

While there is no mention of civilian casualties, we can see that the Nangarhar province already bore many scars of war. Whatever the US strike accomplished in removing the threat that ISIL posed to the local villagers (and let’s remember that it was the Afghans of the area who were primarily threatened by ISIL and not “American interests”) war is still there. Perhaps any assessment of the damage done by MOAB would be difficult to differentiate from the wounds already inflicted.

And yet, the images that are most likely to remain with the American public are those of the unexploded bomb and the ambiguous black and white aerial footage of its impact. They were the first images and the most palatable. Whatever victory was scored against ISIL in the strike, the scenes from Nangarhar wouldn’t inspire much celebration.

If you catch any other images being circulated on television or on digital sources like the Huffington Post, let me know.

 

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  • Afghan media (Khaama and others) did interview civilians in the area immediately after the attack. They reported broken windows and doors, and other blast damage to their homes, although no serious injuries. And they were of course terrified. However, I haven’t seen any reports from ground zero. There were also several follow-up strikes using more conventional weapons, so sorting out the effect of the Big One is probably impossible.

  • I think it safe to say that there were two reasons for dropping this bomb:

    1. So that Trump could make a big boom to enthrall his base, who, being simple minded folk, like big booms because they are big and boomy.

    2. To get some operational data on dropping this weapon in the real world.

    #2 is probably why such a remote location was chosen, so that the U.S. military could collect data and also control access to the site. Also to minimize civilian casualties and to allow authorities to make up any number they want on the number of ISIS members killed.

    For #1, all the rubes need is some grainy pictures and local reports of how bid and boomy it was.

  • CP

    and let’s remember that it was the Afghans of the area who were primarily threatened by ISIL and not “American interests”

    This is something I generally wish were more remembered at all times when discussing those jihadist movements. That the biggest amount of human damage they cause by far is as the local Ku Klux Klan in the countries they emerge from, and not the random shooters that hit a nightclub in the West every once in a while.

  • Merkwürdigliebe

    I really don’t see what the moral is here, apart from noting that the fixation on very large phallic instruments of death is indeed a universal thing. (Trump used it because everybody was going to talk about how he used it, because he knows that they know that he knows it was indeed a Big Bomb…?)

    In the light of this, of course they decided to pick a location a bit out of the way, in case something didn’t go exactly as planned. I don’t see how this really adds or subtracts from the already existing issues of this kind of warfare.

    • To me its not about the warfare but what the public is told about the warfare. They’re generally not going to tell people “Hey all, we’re just gonna do a quick weapons test in a remote area to see how it goes ok?”

      That’s no fun.

      • Yes. Bleeding civilians makes for bad optics, and its hard to control the message when you have those pesky journalists walking about and snapping pictures of horribly burned corpses, ISIS or not. Not like the military would ever lie or pad body counts, that is.

  • Yankee

    basically just a test

    The question might be, if you drop it over an artillery park, for how long and in what radius will that leave gunners incapacitated and weapons unserved, so how much time have you got to insert special forces types to spike the guns more thoroughly? Like cops use flashbangs. Asking for a friend.

  • petesh

    Thanks for this post. I wish I had something usefully constructive to say. The disgusting cynicism described by other commenters is, um, disgusting. Well, there’s a deep insight.

    I am glad this post exists, even if relatively few people discuss it. Thanks for helping us remember.

  • Bufflars

    Looks like the NYTimes has an opinion piece up on their website about the village near where the bomb went off, possibly including photos. I haven’t read it yet.

  • Cheerfull

    I still don’t understand the implication that the military had a vast range of places where there is a military target like ISIS and chose this one, just because it was out of the way. If it wasn’t out of the way, i.e. in a city in Syria, there would have been many thousands of casualties. Presumably the military is still concerned about this kind of thing.

    You keep saying they chose this site because of its isolation. But where do you think it would have otherwise made military sense to drop this bomb? Or are you arguing that this bomb is never necessary?

    • My argument is mostly ambivalent about strikes against ISIL in theory. But the kind of strikes matter, and the story that is told about them matters. What we have here is a story *about the bomb* and not *about the target* or even the *people* supposedly liberated by the bomb.

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