Saturday, February 7, 2009

You Heard It There First

The New York Times confirms a story that first appeared in the Ugandan newspaper New Vision nearly two months ago: that the US military aided Operation Lighting Thunder.
The American military helped plan and pay for a recent attack on a notorious Ugandan rebel group, but the offensive went awry, scattering fighters who carried out a wave of massacres as they fled, killing as many as 900 civilians.
The Times suggests that the US failed to prepare the Ugandan troops for some predictable contingencies. For example, the troops "did little or nothing to protect nearby villages, despite a history of rebel reprisals against civilians."

Because the operation's failure had such serious consequences--Kony's escape, the death of 900 Congolese, the displacement of 10,000 more--it's easy to condemn the US military for its participation in this mission. But it's important to remember that even the best operations can go awry. This one, for example, seems to have handicapped by some unexpected fog that threw off the timing. And it's not clear exactly what role the US played--or how much latitude they had to pressure the Ugandans to improve the planning.

In any case, I find I'm not as angry about this as I might have expected. I'm on record, after all, for initially praising the US for deciding to participate in this mission. Diplomacy isn't going to work with Kony or the LRA; sometimes, the only solution is military. Make no mistake: The autopsy should be done; the lessons should be learned. But my gut reaction is that it's a shame the mission didn't work out, not that it's a shame we participated.

On a different note, I wish the Times would give credit to New Vision. How hard would it be for the newspaper of record to give a little nod to their African colleagues, working at 1/50th their pay and with one thousandth of their resources? A slight rewrite in the third paragraph would have sufficed: "The United States has been training Ugandan troops in counterterrorism for several years. The Ugandan newspaper New Vision first broke the story of an American involvement in this operation, but details regarding the extent and nature of the US role have remained murky. According to senior American military officials, it is the first time the United States has helped plan such a specific military offensive with Uganda."

If I were an editor at New Vision, I'd want to dig as deeply as I could into the autopsy of this mission and the role the US played. The American journalists have gotten the US military's side of the story. They've said, in effect, don't blame us: "In the end, it wasn't our operation." It's up to Ugandan reporters to get the Ugandan side of this story. How do they feel about the American role?

I'd also be tempted to write the NYT a letter congratulating them on their "scoop," and pointing out that Ugandan readers had been in the know for the better part of two months. But that's just me.

No comments:

Post a Comment