Afghanistan and the fog of war

A comely 36-year-old British aid worker, photographed in the romantic poppy fields of Afghanistan, kidnapped by the Taliban. Killed by one of her captors in a suicide vest as a crack team of U.S. Navy Seals stages a rescue mission in the dead of night. You can almost hear the Hollywood cameras rolling.

Because the circumstances of the death of Linda Norgrove are a work of fiction. It was the first version offered to the media by “NATO sources” over the weekend before a second was presented yesterday by the British prime minister, David Cameron. He told reporters in London that Dr. Norgrove “could have died as a result of a grenade detonated by the task force during the assault.” It could be that the investigation will show that the aid worker was not even held by the Taliban, but by a criminal group negotiating a ransom.

The public should never accept that truth is the first casualty in war. Western forces have shown a cavalier attitude to the truth as they have embroidered the facts in Iraq and Afghanistan time and time again to cover their own failings. In the case of Linda Norgrove, as in others, the world’s media were not in a position to verify the information provided to them by the Western alliance whose soldiers were on the scene in the mountains of Afghanistan.

Remember the case of former NFL player Pat Tillman, whose death was covered up by the U.S. military, who awarded him a posthumous Silver Star for his heroism in saving the lives of his fellow Rangers before being shot by the Taliban? It was only after his family investigated that the truth emerged a full month later that Tillman had been killed by friendly fire.

One year earlier, in Iraq in 2003, 19-year-old Jessica Lynch was elevated to mythic status over her dramatic nighttime rescue from the hospital by Navy Seals and Rangers until the full extent of the U.S. propaganda effort was revealed.

So this latest tragedy did not happen in a vacuum. There is a troubling tradition that is being constructed by the U.S. military and its Hollywood-style news management as they write the first draft of history. It is to be hoped that those responsible for this latest debacle after the botched rescue attempt will be punished and that next time those “NATO sources” hiding behind anonymity will get their facts right.

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