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Taliban Attacks in Context

“Kabul Is Shelled by the Taliban” reads the dramatic headline in the Wall Street Journal — a newspaper that is a byword for serious, nonsensationalistic news coverage. Variations appeared in newspapers around the world. From the headline, you would think the capital of Afghanistan was under incessant barrage from enemy artillery — as it was in the 1990s during its civil war. But when you read the actual stories (I wonder how many will actually bother to), a slightly different picture emerges:

Taliban militants fired rockets into Afghanistan’s capital from about 12 miles away before dawn Tuesday. . . . The attack was the first on Kabul in nearly six months, and relatively minor, wounding two people and damaging a few buildings.

So let me get this straight: a handful of militants unleash a few long-range inaccurate rockets that cause little damage — and this is supposed to be the “shelling” of Kabul? Actually, it’s a sign of how safe the Afghan capital is that such a minor attack makes the news at all. In the case of Baghdad, it would have taken dozens of casualties for an attack to get this much media play. But even in Baghdad, it was easy to overhype such attacks. I remember how during visits to the Iraqi capital in the past, I would sometimes get worried e-mails from back home wondering if I was OK after some attack or another. Invariably, the folks back home knew more about it than I did because they were watching CNN, whereas when you are actually in a sprawling city like Baghdad, it is quite possible to be completely oblivious of a bombing that has taken place a few miles away.

I am by no means suggesting that the media suppress the news of such attacks, but I wish they would keep in mind that the only reason the Taliban stage them is to garner this kind of overwrought press coverage.



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