For weeks, the U.S. public followed the biggest offensive of the Afghanistan War against what it was told was a "city of 80,000 people" as well as the logistical hub of the Taliban in that part of Helmand. That idea was a central element in the overall impression built up in February that Marja was a major strategic objective, more important than other district centres in Helmand.
It turns out, however, that the picture of Marja presented by military officials and obediently reported by major news media is one of the clearest and most dramatic pieces of misinformation of the entire war, apparently aimed at hyping the offensive as a historic turning point in the conflict.
Marja is not a city or even a real town, but either a few clusters of farmers' homes or a large agricultural area covering much of the southern Helmand River Valley.
"It's not urban at all," an official of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), who asked not to be identified, admitted on Sunday. He called Marja a "rural community".
"It's a collection of village farms, with typical family compounds," said the official, adding that the homes are reasonably prosperous by Afghan standards.
Hey, if you need a propaganda victory, what's better than making up a fictional city that you can go 'seige' and 'capture'?
So, we are using close to 100,000 troops and billions of our tax payer dollars to make a fictional city safe for 'freedom'. I guess that makes sense to our rulers, since the last thing they want is real 'freedom' anywhere. Notice how quickly they extend things like the Patriot Act. No, its obviously safer to only allow 'freedom' in the fictional cities they create for propaganda victories.
The same story said Marja was "the biggest town under Taliban control" and called it the "linchpin of the militants' logistical and opium-smuggling network". It gave the figure of 125,000 for the population living in "the town and surrounding villages". ABC news followed with a story the next day referring to the "city of Marja" and claiming that the city and the surrounding area "are more heavily populated, urban and dense than other places the Marines have so far been able to clear and hold."
The rest of the news media fell into line with that image of the bustling, urbanised Marja in subsequent stories, often using "town" and "city" interchangeably. Time magazine wrote about the "town of 80,000" Feb. 9, and the Washington Post did the same Feb. 11.
Which only goes to prove that no one at ABC News, Time magazine or the WaPo knows how to use Google Maps or Google Earth. In today's information age, aerial photographs of a region like this are available to anyone who cares to go look.
Which just shows that they don't care. Their job is to spread the propaganda. Five minutes of fact checking by pulling up Google maps isn't part of that job. This article thus gives a nice list of 'news' outlets where propaganda is more important than facts.