Disclaimer: I work for the U.S. Air Force, and am inclined to disbelieve any statistics which make us look bad. I had a thorough and rational discussion with tripitaka on this when he posted the above. Please don't upvote or downvote these nodes for their political content--as tripitaka himself put it, "Jingoism bad! Informed debate good!" I hope my opposing view will be taken as informed debate, and not jingoism.
It's been almost 2 weeks since this node went up, and several months since the report mentioned therein was written. Given the time-critical nature of the topic, I think I can forgive the Professor a few mistakes. However, in today's Philadelphia Inquirer, and throughout the Associated Press, a report was published which casts more than a little doubt on his findings. A reporter named Laura King is cited as the author, but she is apparently not the one doing the counting; her article refers again and again to "the AP" and "AP reporters in Afghanistan," without listing names. It's a good guess that she's at the home office writing the summary for the benefit of the public. The title of her article is "Civilian Toll in Afghan War Likely Lower."
I won't cut and paste her work here, but I will give you a few sound bites in a paragraph or two. First, the reason: sources, sources, sources. Prof. Herold's study used Taliban reports among its sources, and although he went with a lower total where available, many times the Taliban report would be the only one available, adding bodies to his body count without any second opinion.
AP reporters interviewed family members who were unavailable for comment when the bombing took place. They also interviewed local officials and reporters who were responsible for sending out dispatches about the bombing.
Mohammed Ismail, then a Bakhtar reporter (...) told AP that in a typical instance, he went to the scene of an air strike (...) and saw eight bodies. "But it was changed in our dispatch to 20," he said. When he heard the report on Taliban-run radio, the figure had risen to 30, he said.
Bakhtar journalists were also ordered by the Taliban to report military deaths as civilian ones. In late October, journalist Younis Mihireen was sent to report on a bombing in which 60 Taliban fighters died. In his words, "there were no civilians anywhere nearby, and I reported this. But the dispatch said (they) were civilians."
For one quick comparison of the AP reporting to Prof. Herold's, let's look at October 11, 2001. The Taliban took journalists to the site of a bombing. They claimed 200 deaths. In Prof. Herold's report, he lists 160 as the lowest estimate available. AP reporters saw, in Laura King's words, "35 graves." Villagers told them that 20 more had been taken to ancestral burial sites. The AP tally was, therefore, 55.
The Associated Press has a lot to gain from reporting lower casualties: if Afghanistan is viewed as a "just" war, and the perception exists that America "won", then America's economy will likely bounce back, and all of the news organizations will be able to sell advertising. Action in Iraq could be forthcoming, and that will sell lots of papers. To be fair, the AP states that their count of 500-600 will probably continue to grow. They have a lot to gain if you blindly accept their numbers. All the same, they take the time to list other possible sources.
The Project on Defense Alternatives is a think tank in Cambridge, MA. Their estimate was 1,000-1,300, based on "selected Western media," and completely discounting reports based on Taliban figures. This think tank--from what I can gather from their web site--is left-leaning. They argue for a smaller, better military, and more well-thought-out political decisions. If a liberal think tank has numbers that are 3 times lower than his, perhaps Professor Herold should take a closer look at his sources.
Professor Mark Herold is a professor in economics and the department of women's studies. I'm in military intelligence (go ahead, laugh). I don't routinely publish papers on economic theory or on women's liberation; Until I do, I'd like to ask him to show field journalists and my co-workers in the military the same courtesy.