What's really going on in Afghanistan?

By Mark Follman

Published February 8, 2005 1:08AM (EST)

It may be somewhat difficult to know at this point. American Journalism Review's Kim Hart reports:

"Once a journalism hot spot, Afghanistan was all but left behind when the media's spotlight turned to the conflict in Iraq. In June/July 2003, AJR reported that only a handful of reporters remained in the struggling country on a full-time basis, while other news organizations floated correspondents in and out when time and resources permitted.

"A year and a half later, Afghanistan has become even more of an afterthought. Only three news organizations -- Newsweek, Associated Press and the Washington Post -- have full-time reporters stationed in Kabul, the capital. Other major newspapers, such as the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, rely on stringers in Afghanistan and correspondents based in New Delhi, India, to cover the region, a stark contrast to the hundreds of reporters pouring into Iraq since the war began. The New York Times uses a stringer, albeit a full-time one. Television networks have nearly disappeared."

Surely there is no lack of stories -- a still largely unstable Afghanistan as ground zero for the global drug trade, for example -- but part of the problem may be that it's too dangerous to cover them: Militants attacked a vehicle full of journalists on Monday, killing two reporters and wounding two others.

Commenting in the AJR piece, Newsday foreign editor Roy Gutman points out why there's good reason to keep on the Afghanistan beat. Now that major fighting is over, he says, "it's very important to keep a spotlight on Afghanistan to see whether the U.S. government is able to manage it and able to succeed." (That's likely no disrespect intended toward the fledgling government of Hamid Karzai.)

Perhaps a few more reporters on the ground might also shed some light on why it's been so hard to nab Osama bin Laden. For his part, Vice President Cheney remains fairly baffled on the subject -- from his interview yesterday with Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday":

WALLACE: President Bush did not mention Osama bin Laden in his State of the Union address. Do you have any idea where he is, even what country he's in?

CHENEY: That would be just speculation. And if I did know, I obviously couldn't talk about it.

WALLACE: I mean, the current speculation is that he's somewhere in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

CHENEY: I don't want to elaborate on where he might or might not be.

WALLACE: Why can't we catch him?

CHENEY: Well, we're doing our level best, and I think eventually we will. But he's very good on his operational security, obviously. He's found good places to hide. And so far it's been a difficult task. But I think eventually we will get him.

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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