In Rush to Transcribe Military’s Concern on Why We Can’t Leave Afghanistan, Did NY Times Fact-check “Classified” Report?

The "UNCLASSIFIED" stamp not found by New York Times fact-checkers. This stamp appears at the top and bottom of each of the 70 pages of the report that the Times said was classified.

Today’s New York Times carries a long article under the headline “Afghanistan’s Soldiers Step Up Killings of Allied Forces“. The story appears to me to be presented from the angle of military higher-ups who don’t want to withdraw from Afghanistan and point to the failed training of Afghan forces to support their argument that we must stay there:

The violence, and the failure by coalition commanders to address it, casts a harsh spotlight on the shortcomings of American efforts to build a functional Afghan Army, a pillar of the Obama administration’s strategy for extricating the United States from the war in Afghanistan, said the officers and experts who helped shape the strategy.

Not very thinly veiled, there, is it? It is the “officers and experts who helped shape the strategy” who say that we have “shortcomings” in our “efforts to build a functional Afghan Army”. And since that Afghan Army is “a pillar of the Obama’s administration’s strategy for exticating the United States from the war”, well, we just can’t possibly consider withdrawing yet if we have failed on such a central job, can we?

The Times article is based primarily on a study titled “A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incompatibility” and the Times claims the report is classified:

The 70-page classified coalition report, titled “A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incompatibility,” goes far beyond anecdotes. It was conducted by a behavioral scientist who surveyed 613 Afghan soldiers and police officers, 215 American soldiers and 30 Afghan interpreters who worked for the Americans.

Hmmm. This Wall Street Journal article from June 17, 2011 references a report with the same title and even has a link purporting to be for the report. That link is now broken and gives a “404 Not Found” response, but searching on the title gives this link, which goes to a 70 page pdf plainly stamped “UNCLASSIFIED” in green at the top and bottom of every page, as seen in the partial screencap above. In addition to not having Truth Vigilantes, it appears that the New York Times has now given up on using fact-checkers, because their claim that the report is classified is in error unless both the classified and unclassified versions of the report just happen to have 70 pages each.

Anyway, if we dive into this report, the executive summary gives us the list of reasons cited by Afghan troops for why they become upset with US troops. Reading this list brings up the question of whether training of US troops is just as much a failure as our training of Afghan troops (quotations here are my transcriptions, the pdf was saved in a form preventing copying):

Sixty-eight focus groups were conducted on 613 ANSF personnel throughout three provinces at 19 locations. Their reported negative views, experiences and observations of U.S. Soldiers’ social behaviors were recorded. ANSF members identified numerous social, cultural and operational grievances they have with U.S. Soldiers. Factors that created animosity were reviewed through a content analysis that measured frequency and intensity of the perceived grievances. Factors that fueled the most animosity included U.S. convoys not allowing traffic to pass, reportedly indiscriminant return U.S. fire that causes civilian casualties, naively using flawed intelligence sources, U.S. Forces conducting night raids/home searches, violating female privacy during searches, U.S. road blocks, publicly searching/disarming ANSF members as an SOP when they enter bases, and past massacres of civilians by U.S. Forces (i.e., the Wedding Party Massacre, the Shinwar Massacre, etc.). Other issues that led to altercations or near-altercations (including many self-reported near-fratricide incidents) included urinating in public, their cursing at, insulting and being rude and vulgar to ANSF members, and unnecessarily shooting animals. They found many U.S. Soldiers to be extremely arrogant, bullying, unwilling to listen to their advice, and were often seen as lacking concern for civilian and ANSF safety during combat. CAT 1 interpreters’ (n=30) views were similiar to the ANSF’s.

And yes, the report is accurate in painting the situation as cultural incompatibility, as here are the complaints US forces had about ANSF troops:

U.S. Soldiers’ (n=215) views of ANSF, particularly of the ANA, were also collected; they were extremely negative. They reported pervasive illicit drug use, massive thievery, personal instability, dishonesty, no integrity, incompetence, unsafe weapons handling, corrupt officers, no real NCO corps, covert alliance/informal treaties with insurgents, high AWOL rates, bad morale, laziness, repulsive hygiene and the torture of dogs. Perceptions of civilians were also negative stemming from their insurgent sympathies and cruelty towards women and children.

So, yes, when we put two armed groups close to one another who hold such low opinions of each other, it is not surprising that one group would start killing the other. So far, we only have reports of Afghan troops killing US troops, but it would not be at all surprising for the converse to occur as well, given the lack of mutual trust.

Why would the Times put out this story today? As I suggest above, my gut feeling is that the Times was approached by military personnel who don’t want the US to withdraw from Afghanistan and want to use the failure of training as evidence for why we can’t leave now. Note especially how the reliance on training is tied to Obama here: it is the Obama administration that wants to rely on trained Afghan forces to take over security matters when we withdraw. Aside from the fact that when training is described as a success it almost always is attributed to David Petraeus, it seems that this particular argument is being trotted out now to provide fodder for the Republican presidential candidates to use in saying we can’t withdraw from Afghanistan. Whatever the reason, the Times appears to have fallen down in its responsibility to the public by failing to do even the most rudimentary check of the claims of those feeding them this story. I found the unclassified version of the report in just seconds by searching on the title. Why couldn’t the Times do that (or at least point out that there coincidentally just happens to be an unclassified version that also is 70 pages long)? And after finding the report isn’t really classified, would they have looked a bit deeper into the motives of those feeding them the story?

Update: And now there is a second correction on the New York Times article:

The article also referred incompletely to the military study’s secrecy. While it was classified, as the article reported, it was first distributed in early May 2011 as unclassified and was later changed to classified. (The Times learned after publication that a version of the study has remained accessible on the Internet.)

It appears as though Marcy’s theory in comments about retroactive classification, perhaps after the Wall Street Journal article was published, is most likely correct. My main point remains, however. Why did NY Times fact-checkers not find the full version of the report that still could be found by searching on its title? What other aspects of the story did they accept fully from those directing them to the story?

18 replies
  1. Jim White says:

    Heh. Well, while I was finishing writing, Marcy pointed out to me that the Times at least found the old WSJ article:

    Correction: January 20, 2012

    An earlier version of this article omitted reference to a previous account of the classified coalition report, which was published in The Wall Street Journal last year.

  2. emptywheel says:

    You know, I gotta say, Murdoch’s rag did a much better job of presenting both sides of the report. I mean, NYT doesn’t tell us the Americans are arrogant thugs until what, the third to last paragraph?

  3. marc says:

    I think people who pay any attention at all now realize that the New York Times “news” stories are like most American “journalism” just a bunch of minimally reworked anonymous official press releases. The New York Times during the Bush years became like Pravda. The real story can only be had by reading carefully between the lines then doing all the basic research that the reporter should have already done. How many readers are realistically going to do that? I don’t know if reporters are under too much pressure to push out product quickly then move on to the next story or are they just lazy and rely so much on simple stenography and their anonymous government sources because it gets them out of the office in time for their softball league or maybe happy hour at a hip new watering hole.

  4. rugger9 says:

    Well, does the antics of the Gray Lady surprise anyone? This is where Judy worked, and since Pinch took over the journalism simply rode on the laurels of prior reporters. Pinch wants the war to go on in order to sell papers, at the very least.

    With that said, the motivation is pretty clear, it’s the campaign, and the nugget about Petraeus getting credits while Obama gets the hits tells me my original gut feeling remains on target. Petraeus will be the GOP nominee at the convention, the Kochs, Rove’s Crossroads GPS, and Phil Gramm will ensure all airtime on the corporate media will be bought up to prevent P’s many sins from being discussed and Obama’s sins broadcast 24/7. No way Mitt wins, the fiasco in Iowa where IOKIYAR to chuck votes into the dumpster because Rove didn’t want anyone but Mittens “winning” Iowa. I’m not convinced Santorum would have won NH anyhow, but the telling stat from there is how weak the support for the ballyhooed favorite son Mittens was, and how deep the nastiness from the Union Leader was. That’s fundamental stuff, as is the fact that the fundies are trying to find anyone else. If the DNC is smart [good luck with that] they will buy the future airtime now for Obama’s campaign to come.

    OT, but also very sleazy [the relevant thread is closed for comments]: Our favorite utility here, Pacific Graft and Extortion [yes, they cash checks made out that way] has slipped into their terms and conditions statement REQUIRED to access your online account a rider on Page 3 of 4 that limits their total liability for anything related to their system. The key quote as reported in the San Jose Mercury News Action Line column 1/19/12:

    PG&E, its affiliates or subsidiaries, and their officers, directors, employees, agents, successors or assigns, will not be liable to you or any third party for any indirect, consequential, incidental, exemplary, special or punitive damages (including without limitation damages resulting from lost data, lost profits or costs of procurement of substitute products or services) arising out of or in connection with the website or any of the services available on or through the website.
    In no event will the liability of PG&E, its affiliates or subsidiaries, and their officers, directors, employees, agents successors or assigns, under any theory of liability (whether in contract, tort, strict liability or otherwise) exceed $500.

    So the eight that died in San Bruno are SOL if they used the website to check anything. As is anyone else if their dryer connection is faulty when PG&E connects it and it burns down the house, or if PG&E's subcontractor botches relighting the furnace pilot and CO poisoning occurs. Stuff that would be arranged via the website.

    PG&E just doesn't "get it", and I severely doubt this is an isolated occurrence, check your utilities, etc. for the same stuff.

  5. orionATL says:

    this is a sad story but a universal event when individuals from two different cultures meet to work together.

    a long time ago this social phenomenon was called “culture shock”.

    here is the invaluable wikipedia’s contemporary discussion of “culture shock”. it matches to a tee what i was trained to expect and did experience.

    do our contemporary american military leaders not expect the individuals in their “expeditionary forces” to experience culture shock in their 1 year stint abroad?

    i would bet that, absent intensive training, most, if not all, of a soldier’s first year working in the countryside will be consumed with this struggle. and there is no second year.

  6. emptywheel says:

    You know, given the response to the WSJ story–and the 404–I wonder if this document was intentionally buried after the WSJ story? Maybe that’s what NYT’s claim that it is classified is about?

  7. Jim White says:

    @emptywheel: I’ve just sent an inquiry to Michael Yon’s website asking for information on how they came into possession of the report, when and what they were told about its classification status. Retroactive classification isn’t exactly a new thing for our government, is it?

  8. Frank33 says:

    Another Guvmint Report, going into history with the Starr Report and Senate Report of the Christmas Day Al Qaeda Bombing.

    Since mid-Sept. 2009, there have been at least 21 fratricide-murder incidents where bona fide Afghanistan National Security Force (ANSF) members (n=20) or an Afghan Security Guard (ASG) (n=1) have murdered or attempted to murder ISAF or UNAMA personnel, leading to the known deliberate fratricide killings of 50 ISAF and 1 UNAMA personnel (49 by ANSF members and 2 by an ASG), with a similar number of wounded (See APPENDIX A, pgs. 55-58). As of May 12, 2011, this represents 6% of all hostile deaths ISAF has suffered in Afghanistan during this time period.

    And that is just page 4. I wonder what is on page 5?

    Additionally, the actions surrounding the embarrassing Kandahar prison escape of some 500 insurgent inmates on April 25, 2011 sets new ANSF standards for both incompetence and treasonous duplicity given the performance of the prison’s Afghan security forces.

  9. Gitcheegumee says:


    Did you ever read James Bamford’s award winning piece, “The Man Who Sold the War”?

    You may recall a Stars and Stripes article about them a few years back,regarding a rating systems used to evaluate embed reporters by their pro or con reporting on Iraq War. Quite a firestorm ,there.

    You may not recall that John Rendon(referred to- by some -as Bush’s General in the propaganda war)is married to Scooter Libby’s sister;and, she was/is one of the org’s chief officers.

    James Bamford – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    In 2006, he won the National Magazine Award for Reporting for his piece “The Man Who Sold The War,” published in Rolling Stone. A native of Massachusetts, …

    The Man Who Sold The War by James Bamford – Rolling Stone…/the-man-who-sold-the-war-by-james-bamf...

    During the run-up to the Iraqi war, the Bush Administration hired perception management expert John Rendon to sell the public and journalists on the.

  10. Jim White says:

    By the way, France is threatening to pull out of Afghanistan early because three of their troops were killed by Afghan soldiers. From Reuters:

    France threatened on Friday to pull out early from the NATO-led war in Afghanistan after a rogue Afghan soldier opened fire on French soldiers, killing four and wounding about 15 others.

    The killings in the Taghab valley of Afghanistan’s eastern Kapisa province were the latest in a series of incidents that have seen Afghan troops turn on Western allies.

    French President Nicolas Sarkozy said all French operations on the ground were being suspended and his defense minister was dispatched to clarify the situation in Afghanistan.

    “If the security conditions are not clearly established then the question of an early return of French forces from Afghanistan will arise,” said Sarkozy.

    Also, over at Moon of Alabama, b has a post on related issues.

  11. klynn says:

    Reading this list brings up the question of whether training of US troops is just as much a failure as our training of Afghan troops…

    Quick answer…yes.

  12. PeasantParty says:

    This is the exact reason why I think the Military has gone overboard on the charges against Manning. Yes, he did it. However, it has been noted many times that not all of the documents were classified.

    This military secrecy garb is getting way out of hand. I understand our military needs to keep things secret but for God’s sake, we all already know after 10 years this shit ain’t working!

    Just get out now before you make matters worse.

  13. PeasantParty says:


    Per your question in comment #7:

    I didn’t go to the link to read the full report, but did the report mention any deaths military or civilian in numbers?

  14. Jim White says:

    See the update in the body of the post: the Times now admits that they “incompletely” characterized the secrecy of the report. They now say it was published as unclassified in May of 2011 and then classified later and that a full version remains available on the internet.


  15. Bob Schacht says:

    But now the Ravens have a ricochet INT in the end zone! The catch was impressive, keeping the ball from touching the ground, and then running it back 30? yards.

    Bob in AZ

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