Sunday, October 28, 2001

Afghanistan Frontlines

After breakfast, I returned to my room in a hotel in Kobe where I was for a Seicho-Noi-Ie Grand Seminar. Opening the newspaper, I listened somewhat absent-mindedly to the BBC World News on TV. Before I knew it, I was drawn to the images of John Simpson, reporting from Afghanistan on the frontline confrontations between the Taliban and Northern Alliance troops. Different from the Gulf War, there are almost no raw, detailed reports from the frontlines. What we do get are cut and dried facts--names and numbers of how many locations the U.S. bombed, how many combat aircrafts went out, which cities/towns were attacked--devoid of human pain and sorrow. Then again, similar to what we saw during the Gulf War, computerized images of Taliban buildings and tanks destroyed by the guided missiles from U.S. bombers are shown repeatedly. This, too, is devoid of the cries of those who lose their lives, or the images of the people who are suffering because of this destruction. It's almost like a computer game.

The newspaper reports, which have no visual images, are even more abstract, with many vague, ambiguous references to, "Attacks today were more intense than usual," or "U.S. bombers today concentrated attacks on such-and-such?" In today's edition of the Nihon Keizei Shimbun (Japan Economic News), there was an article which said, "Bombing continued, the most aggressive to date, on the 26th and 27th, as more than 30 bombs were dropped successively on the base positions of the Taliban troops north of Kabul in an air strike which was said to reach near civilian homes." We who read these articles, are surprised and shocked at the descriptions--"most aggressive to date," "dropped successively," "reach near civilian homes"--and tend to imagine, not only that the Taliban forces are experiencing huge losses at the hands of the violent U.S. bombings, but also that there are many Afghan civilians who have become victims of these attacks.

However, reports from the "frontlines" by Mr. Simpson, showed no exchange of gunfire, no soldiers flinging themselves at the enemy, nor carpet bombing upon the Taliban troops. In a moment before dawn, in 25 degrees (Centigrade) weather, with no wind, bombings occur only sporadically. Even those are from one or two U.S. bombers whose silvery wings look small against the clear blue sky. There are no sounds of return fire from the anti-aircraft guns, and, amidst it all, there are small explosions that occur and little mushroom clouds billow sporadically here and there. Soldiers of the Northern Alliance look out at it all calmly, chatting amongst themselves. Moreover, according to the explanation given by the commanding officer of the Northern Alliance unit, the Taliban frontline base immediately in front of them was not touched, but the backup trucks and tanks were being shot, in sniper-like fashion from above, and destroyed . In other words, U.S. forces avoided hitting the Taliban main positions, and were, instead, attacking the peripheral areas. Come to think of it, it was strange that there were "over 30" (in other words, less than 39) bombs dropped in what was touted as "the most aggressive attack to date." Even at a rate of one every 15 minutes, it would have been 40 within the span of 10 hours.

For soldiers and civilians hurt or killed in combat or bombings, war is definitely horrible, but there seem to be wars carried out for political reasons which "pull some punches". I recall that President Bush said recently, "The Taliban are tough." This seems very strange. Not giving it their all, and yet calling them tough? It seems that in this war (and in other wars as well), we ordinary citizens are getting news that is "turned around."

Placing it on a piece of dark colored paper, I tried drawing a picture of a bottle of liquid soap that was in my hotel room. It had a strange effect--like the entire picture was somehow "turned around."

- MT

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