In my years of reporting it became an article of faith for me: the real story is always the people, what’s life like for them?
The “bigger stories,” of socio-economic mega-trends, of government policies and strategic plans were all interesting, but the place to truly take their measure, and to measure the truth, intelligence and integrity of the officials and experts offering quotes about them was in the day-to-day, minute-to-minute reality of ordinary life.
In Afghanistan recently, the dropping of “the mother of all bombs” on a system of bunkers and caves used by the local branch of the Islamic State brought that largely ignored country and all-but-forgotten war back into the news cycle.
There are a host of reasons why Americans should care.
First, using the most destructive non-nuclear weapon our arsenal was an idea suggested and approved, we are told, entirely within the military chain of command, part of President Trump’s policy of letting “his generals” make all the military decisions.
The generals reportedly prefer this to the “meddling” of the Obama White House, as if warfare did not have a political dimension.
One can certainly understand the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army General John Nicholson’s point of view. Using ground troops, Afghan and American to attack the Islamist fighters in their caves is both slow and costly.
Blowing them and their redoubts to smithereens from the air is swifter and safer, and since no civilian deaths have been reported from the remote Achin region of Eastern Afghanistan, the only direct costs are the sixteen million dollars for the bomb, and, according to the reliable Robin Wright of The New Yorker, the three hundred million dollars to develop it.
That’s not the end of the news coverage of the story. There has been reaction in Afghanistan. In a news conference called by the local Governor of Nangahar Province, several tribal leaders gave the bombing their retrospective approval, and in a series of statements and interviews in Kabul, hundreds of miles from the scene, the former Afghan President Hamid Karzai denounced his successor Mohammad Ashraf Ghani as a “traitor” for agreeing to it.
The next big news out of Afghanistan was that Gen. H. R. McMaster, President Trump’s National Security Advisor was coming to Kabul for high-level discussions.
What the bombing will mean for the fight against the estimated 600 surviving fighters for the Islamic State of Khoristan and for the residents of Achin or Nangahar won’t be known for awhile. And what it means to the 34 million citizens of Afghanistan will likely never make the news.
Although, in a sense, that may be what really matters.
Will Everett first went to Afghanistan as a freelance journalist. His work appeared on NPR and the BBC and Newsweek Magazine. He later worked for USAID in Afghanistan. He has also reported from the Middle East and West Africa, wrote and produced a documentary with Walter Cronkite as part of the World War One Living History Project. His novel We’ll Live Tomorrow was published in 2015.