November 17, 2002



Bill Quick's latest fan letter, from one Walter K. I'm sorry, Bill, but that was really really funny. Looking forward to your rejoinder in kind.

It might have been less funny if Quick hadn't reclaimed today the "bloodthirstiest warblogger" title belt by calling for the nuclear obliteration of the entire Middle East the next time al Qaeda kills an American civilian. That's the post right below the one where he calls for the repeated invasion and bombing of Afghanistan until "these savages... finally understand they have lost." You know, Bill, they have these new decaffeinated coffees now...

UPDATED: Quick, disappointingly, deleted the whole thing. Too close to home, I guess... Sigh... It seems it's true what they say... you're either with Bill Quick, or you're with the terrorists.

Posted by BruceR at 06:40 PM



(See previous entry) Okay, let's take another chunk of the Herold "database." We previously excluded his reported deaths in Paktia province in the first part of this year. Let's look at how many of those have a relative believability.

You might ask at this point, what are my criteria for concurring with Herold? Herold never says much about his methodology, for increasingly obvious reasons, but here's mine, for the record. A death is confirmed in Flit's count if seven conditions are met:

1) Must take place in Afghanistan.
2) Must be a fatality that was generally agreed by witnesses to be directly caused by American/coalition fire, either by ground or air action. Acts by America's Afghan allies will not be counted.
3) Must be at least potentially verifiable (ie with reasonable specificity of time and place).
4) Must have been reported by at least two separate journalistic sources, named if possible, who were working either with first-hand information, or personal interviews with credible eyewitnesses.
5) When competing estimates of fatalities exist, the lowest reasonable estimate shall be taken.
6) Deaths solely by ground action (ie, Special Forces raids) must be tabulated separately, to facilitate comparison with other air offensives.
7) All reasonable effort to exclude enemy (or friendly) combatants from these fatality lists will be taken. For this reason, when considering solely the results of purely ground actions, deaths of any people who are under arms at the time of death shall not be counted.

Now, you may consider those criteria excessively strict, or loose. At least now you know what they are.

To Paktia, then. Herold lists a minimum of 122 fatalities in seven incidents in Paktia in Jan-March 2002. They are:

1) Bombing of Zhawar in January: 32;
2) Bombing of Zhawar in January: 12;
3) Bombing of Zhawar in January: 15;
4) Deaths of a tall man and two companions by Hellfire missile in March: 3;
5) Bombing of Gurboz, February 17: 1;
6) Operation Anaconda near Gardez in March: 45;
7) Destruction of a vehicle in Shkin, March 6: 14.

Okay, the first problem here should be obvious: the first three are all really the same incident. Herold may have troubles with transliterations, but it's obvious all these reports are talking about the same thing.
*A Jan. 5 AIP report from Islamabad claiming 32 dead in Kaskai and Khodyaki, near Zhawar (given the 2-week bombing of Zhawar, the last major Al Qaeda stronghold in Afghanistan, only began Jan. 3, this is a highly doubtful number).
*A Jan. 15 Associated Press report by Kathy Gannon in Kabul:

Abdullah Gorbaz, 52, said at least 12 civilians were killed and cattle herds were decimated [near Zhawar]

*The Guardian's Jan. 15 report by Suzanne Goldenberg in Zhawar:

Fifteen people were killed two days ago in Shudiaki village, says Noorz Ali. (Shudiaki is an obvious transliteration of Khodyaki; significantly, it's described as "on a ridge behind the Zhawar camp, and the extensive network of caves dug into the sides of the gorge below.").

This is almost certainly all the same incident, one that Herold is triple-counting. However the clincher is the follow-up report, which Herold even cites, by Middle East Report's Anthony Shadid, who visited months later, and tied the number down as 15 dead civilians, confirming the Guardian and AP stories. (The rest of Herold's sources for this area in January, in case you're wondering, are reprints of these stories in other papers, or stories that don't address the civilian casualty question at all. As usual, I was able to find almost all of them online.)

As to the rest, the Hellfire missile incident is widely accepted. The brief February bombing of Gurboz, on the other hand, only killed Afghan security forces when the Americans intervened in some local warlord dispute, possibly by mistake, according to AFP. (An AP story on the same incident said there were no fatalities.) Herold puts it down as 1 civilian fatality anyway for some reason.

It's certainly credible that Operation Anaconda, which saw such intense fighting in March, might have caused civilian casualties. The L.A. Times' David Zucchino said the recorded fatalities with the local authorities stood at 12 when he visited a month afterwards, but said others claimed much higher numbers, and conceded there would likely never be certainty. Still, the low estimate on this one is 12, and by the rules stated above, that's the one we should go with. (Herold's 45 appears to have been an unsupported guess on his part.)

Finally, the destruction of a vehicle in Shkin is completely discountable. That's because Shkin, as any detailed map of Afghanistan could have told Herold, is in Paktika province, not Paktia. That means this is the same incident (in which 14 apparently innocent Afghans in the same vehicle were killed by an airstrike, by American admission) we discussed below, and Herold's double-counting once again.

So out of 122 deaths in 7 incidents in Herold's database, 30 deaths in 3 incidents actually check out as credible. In total, we've looked now at 308 of Herold's "unrefuted" deaths, and found confirmation for 94 of them, 78 from aerial bombing, for a success rate on his part of 30.5 per cent. More alarming, out of 28 total incidents we looked at in the database with fatality records attached, only 7 (5 air and 2 ground) actually were confirmable, for a rate of 25 per cent. As well, in only 2 of those 7 did Herold's minimum number correspond with the lowest estimate given by a credible journalist. The Afghan death count drops to 2927.

Posted by BruceR at 05:52 PM



The hate-on by the Sunday Toronto Star team for all things American continues. Today we see:

*(Above the fold on the front page): "The U.S. is a far more deadly source of biological and chemical weapons than Iraq." It's a lead-in to a second-section feature about the continuing U.S. biological and chemical warfare research programs. The front page of the second section again leads-in to the same story with "Lynda Hurst looks at the world's deadliest bioweapons... and finds the U.S. arsenal to be the scariest." Both times, it's in headline font, top of the page, with scary pictures of soldiers in NBC gear.

*Columnist William Walker interviews William Rivers Pitt, author of War With Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know. (Curiously, Walker doesn't mention that the book's coauthor is Scott Ritter.)

*Columnist Antonia Zerbisias, in "Pursue the truth about Sept. 11" says that "if the Bushies didn't cause 9/11, they did nothing to stop it," revisits the Wellstone assassination rumours, and touts the values of three conspiracy sites,, and for finding out what's really going on in the world today.

We've commented on the odd penchant for this paper before. The Star's not like this any other day of the week... it's only on Sundays it lets the crazies out, it seems. And these are off-main page columnists: the actual editorial page is relatively balanced today, with token right-winger Guy Giorno taking a strip off the prime minister for not taking recent terrorist warnings seriously. But the fact that the editorial leadership of the Sunday edition of Canada's largest newspaper steadfastly believes that the American menace is the greatest threat in the world today should speak volumes.

(PS: Again, full disclosure: this writer was once employed by TorStar.)

Posted by BruceR at 10:45 AM