January 19, 2002



David Janes directed me at the study behind the today's Globe and Mail story by Murray Campbell, which should drive the final nail through the Marc Herold estimate of 4,000 Afghan civilian deaths, and the analytical reputations of all those who believed him (Herman, Fisk, the Toronto Star, et al.)

I was almost tempted to use my "reading for soldiers" headline for the study itself, which is sober, intelligent commentary about the pluses and minuses of satellite-guided munitions, a discussion of how to evaluate civilian casualties properly, and a whole lot more. It really is a vitally important study, and its conclusions almost indisputable. So here you have the "Afghan civilian casualties" story so far:

Reuters: 1,000 (a month ago)
Human Rights Watch: 1,000 (also a month ago)
Project on Defense Alternatives: 1,000-1,300
Marc Herold: 4,000+

Murray Campbell covers the study well for the Globe, even though it completely discredits his own previous story of Jan. 3, which praised Herold's ludicrous estimate for its "rigorousness." Campbell makes no mention of that now, however. "Shameless" is one word for that kind of writing... there are others...

In other Herold-related news, I'll accept it as sheer coincidence that Mark Steyn today uses the same subportion of Herold's report to discredit him that I did back on Dec. 20:

Steyn: The anonymous North Carolinian supplying that last atrocity gives no verifiable dates and a single source, a 12-year-old boy in a refugee camp cited by no other news organisation in North America, Europe or Asia.

Flit: Although there is no definite date information here, and the only info is a single 12 year-old refugee, and there's no idea who the reporter is or a second source of any kind, Herold counts this as two confirmed fatalities in Kandahar on Oct. 7

Steyn: as for the BBC, here's what it said at the time: the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan told Reuters the horrendous terrorist attacks had killed at least 20 people across the country. There was no independent confirmation of that figure.

Earlier, the Taliban said there were about 20 casualties in Kabul. Dead or wounded? Somehow Prof Herold recasts 20 deaths nationwide as 22-25 in Kabul.

Flit: The other confirmable source for Day 1 is the BBC. Herold attributes them with a claim of 22-25 fatalities in Kabul on Oct. 7. Because his footnote is undated, the exact report he claims supports that number is untraceable, but the BBC does have good archives overall online, and it's fairly easy to find what they DID say about the Oct. 7 bombings at the time:

"The Taleban said there were civilian casualties, with about 20 people killed including women, children and elderly people. The Taleban ambassador to Pakistan told Reuters the "horrendous terrorist attacks" had killed at least 20 people across the country. There was no independent confirmation of that figure... Earlier the Taleban said there were about 20 casualties in Kabul, including women, children and elderly people... [Kabul] residents said bombs fell near residential areas, destroying two houses..."

That quote, or something close to it, translates in Herold's work into 22-25 confirmed deaths in Kabul that night. Note the conflation of casualties with fatalities, and Kabul with the rest of the country.

Well, first off, Steyn writes much better than I do. And I very much doubt he has ever dropped by Flit (no Stephen Ambrose allegations here.) I'd love to say it's nice to see great minds thinking alike, but I wouldn't want to piss off that ex-editor from Suck.com... Still, I've said it before, I'll say it again... you read it here first (unless you're just linking here today from Damian Penny for the first time, in which case, where the hell have you been?)

PS: The one problem with Steyn's story is the sideswipe at Human Rights Watch. I can't speak about their other work, but HRW's estimate of civilian casualties in the Kosovo war (c. 500) has today been accepted as responsible and sound by just about everybody. They are also right in line with conventional wisdom on the Afghan casualties. I think they should probably be credited, rather than derided, in that narrow respect. They are clearly trying to get and maintain a reputation for objectivity on this issue.

Posted by BruceR at 08:41 PM