Note this headline from Afghanistan, courtesy of the Associated Press:
21 civilians killed in Afghan air strike.
Sounds pretty grim, eh? Coalition aircraft apparently went on a rampage, indiscriminately bombing innocent civilians in a futile effort to target the Taliban, etc.
But the article's second paragraph places the event in a completely different light:
Helmand provincial Gov. Assadullah Wafa said Taliban fighters sought shelter in villagers' homes during the fighting in the Sangin district Tuesday evening, and that subsequent air strikes killed 21 civilians, including several women and children.
That suggests one of two possibilities; either (A) the village was a base of support for the Taliban, or (B) the terrorists held the villagers hostage, deliberately exposing them to hostile fire, for the purpose of creating civilian casualties. Whatever the reason, responsibility for civilian deaths in the Sangin District lies with villagers who may have sided with the Taliban, or terrorists who used locals as human shields.
But readers will observe that the AP's lead paragraph assigns blame to the U.S. Special Forces team that called in the air strike, and the pilots who delivered the ordnance. And, to reinforce the notion that American forces are killing civilians, here's a convenient reference to that recent incident involving a Marine Corps team that fired indiscriminately into a crowd after an IED attack (an incident the U.S. has apologized for, and paid damages to victims' families). The AP writer also includes a recent quote from Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who says that more must be done to prevent civilian casualties.
After connecting those dots (and establishing the desired template), the wire service then offers a pair of important disclaimers--buried conveniently near the end of the story:
Death tolls in remote battle sites in Afghanistan are impossible to verify. Taliban fighters often seek shelter in Afghan homes, leading to civilian casualties, and it is often difficult to determine if people killed in such air strikes were militants or civilians.
Sangin, a militant hotbed in the heart of Afghanistan's biggest opium poppy region, has been the site of heavy fighting in recent weeks.
So, in other words, there's actually a good chance that many those who died were actually Taliban fighters or loyalists, and not innocent civilians. Afterall, even the AP acknowledges that Sangin is a Taliban hotbed, and there was significant fighting in the area in the days before the airstrike.
Why doesn't the reporter mention that at the beginning of his story? Sadly, you know the answer to that one.