Friday, December 11, 2009

killing by the numbers

this, over at Air America by Megan Capentier, is enough to kill the holiday spirit.

is this who we are???

Is The Military Fudging Civilian Casualties To Avoid Pentagon Oversight? Thursday December 10, 2009 6:19 p.m

Sar Bland, an Afghan man who was injured in Monday's rocket attack in Tagab, lies on bed at a hospital at the U.S. base at Bagram, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2009. An official said the deaths of 14 civilians in the rocket attack on Monday presumably aimed at military officials and local leaders underscores the inability of NATO to successfully defeat the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq)

By Megan Carpentier
On Monday, the anonymous blogger Security Crank noticed something interesting: all the U.S. and NATO airstrikes in Afghanistan seemingly kill exactly 30 people every time. How can that be?

Security Crank documented no less than 12 occasions in which news reports, relying on field commanders' estimates, noted that exactly 30 suspected Taliban were killed in airstrikes and, occasionally, artillery attacks. He said:

But the much more important point remains: how could we possibly have any idea how the war is going, here or anywhere else, when the bad guys seem only to die in groups of 30? The sheer ubiquity of that number in fatality and casualty counts is astounding, to the point where I don’t even pay attention to a story anymore when they use that magic number 30. It is an indicator either of ignorance or deliberate spin… but no matter the case, whenever you see the number 30 used in reference to the Taliban, you should probably close the tab and move onto something else, because you just won’t get a good sense of what happened there.

So, why is it always 30? Do thirty casualties seem like enough to justify a military attack, or few enough to not attract too much attention to an incident?

Another blogger, Joshua Foust of the Central Asia blog Registan, seemingly stumbled upon the answer. In a tweet, he noted:

In 2003, an air strike killing 30 civilians could be launched w/o issues. 31 dead civilians and Rummy had to approve.
Foust then linked to an LA Times article from last July by Nicholas Goldberg that documented what field commanders were told.

full article

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