Three weeks after the U.S. military dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb (the “mother of all bombs,” or MOAB) in Nangarhar province’s Achin district, the world seems to have lost interest in Afghanistan once again.
Sixteen years into the ongoing U.S.-led War on Terror, and after four decades of ceaseless violence, Afghans have become accustomed to seeing their homeland used as a testing ground by the world’s super powers and various terrorist organizations. Even worse, amid the horror of war, Afghan suffering is often completely ignored.
During the U.S. presidential election, Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump demonstrated how negligible Afghan lives were, by failing to offer more than a passing mention of the country throughout their campaigns and debates.
World leaders are, however, hardly alone in this conspicuous lack of concern. Indeed, the mainstream media’s poor reporting and failure to hold politicians accountable for their disastrous actions (and lack of responsible policy) in Afghanistan has facilitated this current environment of moral and political impunity.
Within hours of the MOAB strike, for example, the familiar talking heads in Western media became experts on Afghanistan and the Islamic State-Khorsan (IS-K) network inside the country—having previously been silent on these issues.
In nearly every article published following the MOAB strike, Western journalists and pundits opined that, although the targets hit by the United States were technically IS-K tunnels, it was really only done to “send a message” to various regional powers (like Russia, China, Iran, and even North Korea). In almost every analysis of this sort, Afghan lives were treated as a mere footnote.
On Twitter, for example, The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald observed that the “Khorsan Group fraud is what originally justified Obama’s Syria bombing—now used to justify MOAB.” Edward Snowden, the former CIA operative turned whistle blower, chose to comment on the economics of the bombing, emphasizing that the cost of the MOAB was “$314,000,000″ and that it was dropped “in the middle of nowhere.”
Although well intentioned, Greenwald and Snowden’s comments were callous, inconsiderate, and simply sloppy. First, IS-K has little to nothing to do with the supposed “Khorasan Group,” which operates in Syria. It has an entirely different history and inception, which Greenwald clearly mixed up (he ultimately took down the tweet without comment).
Second, the $314,000,000 figure which Snowden mentioned was taken from a 2011 Los Angeles Times report about the creation of an entirely different bomb. The GBU-43 MOAB that was used in Afghanistan actually cost $170,000.
Snowden’s mistake, even if innocent, had disastrous consequences. Nearly every major media outlet cited this phony figure, and began focusing on the cost effectiveness of bombing Afghanistan instead of its impact on Afghan lives.
As if fixing a dollar amount to the price of human life was not bad enough, Snowden’s reduction of Achin to “the middle of nowhere” is worse. Achin has a population of at least 170,000—many of whom have suffered the most unconscionable brutality under IS-K. The larger province where Achin is located has approximately two million residents, a number that is only growing since many of the Afghan refugees being expelled from Pakistan are relocating there. The capital of the province is Jalalabad, one of Afghanistan’s five major cities and economic hubs—hardly “the middle of nowhere.”
In neglecting these basic facts, Western media continues to make Afghanistan and Afghan lives a mere backdrop to geopolitical games. If only Afghan blood wasn’t the price of such heedless ignorance.