How US Media and CIA Weaponised Women's Rights to Manipulate Public Perception of Afghan War
04:15 GMT 25.08.2021 (Updated: 13:23 GMT 06.08.2022)
Photos taken at Kabul Airport amid the US’ hasty evacuation and circulated on social media have shown that those who were fortunate to leave the country by US aircraft were mostly young Afghan men. "Where are the women?" netizens wondered, citing Washington's longstanding campaign for the protection of women's rights in Afghanistan.
"The War in Afghanistan is ending the way it started: with a totally fake concern for women's rights", tweeted Alan MacLeod, a British journalist and a member of the Glasgow University Media Group, on 23 August.
When the US embarked on Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), the invasion of Afghanistan was justified by the need to "retaliate" for the 9/11 terror attack after the Taliban* refused to hand over al-Qaeda* leader Osama bin Laden to Washington.
However, having surveyed 37 countries in late September 2001, Gallup International found that apart from the US, Israel, and India, a majority of people in every country taking part in the study preferred the extradition and trial of suspects to a US attack.
In his 9 April 2021 article for media watchdog FAIR, MacLeod suggested media coverage of the military operation could at least partially explain the US public support for the invasion. At the time, the American mainstream media had focused not only on retaliation for the 9/11 tragedy, but also proclaimed the Afghanistan War a struggle for women's rights, he pointed out.
"The New York Times was among the chief architects in constructing the belief in a phantom feminist war", according to the journalist. "Time magazine also played heavily on this angle".
According to MacLeod, a 2005 study by Carol Stabile and Deepa Kumar found that between 2000 and 11 September 2001, there were 15 US newspaper articles and 33 broadcast TV reports about women’s rights in Afghanistan. However, between 12 September 2001 and 1 January 2002, these numbers exploded to 93 newspaper articles and 628 TV reports on the subject.
Furthermore, anti-war messages were largely absent from the mainstream media coverage, with CNN executives reportedly instructing their staff to counter "any images of civilian casualties with pro-war messages, even if 'it may start sounding rote'", MacLeod noted, citing FAIR founder Jeff Cohen's book Cable News Confidential.
CIA Uses Feminism as Tool to Manipulate Public Opinion
But it's not only the US mainstream media who used the Afghan women's rights narrative to garner support for the Afghanistan War. In March 2010, the CIA issued a confidential “Red Cell Memorandum”, which later became part of WikiLeaks' bombshell Afghan war dump.
In the secret memo, the intelligence agency bemoaned the eroding approval of the Afghanistan military campaign among Washington's European allies and offered to use "feminism" in order to reduce opposition to the occupation of the Central Asian state.
According to the CIA, 80 percent of German and French respondents expressed opposition to increased International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) deployments at the time.
"[German and French] leaders fearing a backlash ahead of spring regional elections might become unwilling to pay a political price for increasing troop levels or extending deployments", the document said. "If domestic politics forces the Dutch to depart, politicians elsewhere might cite a precedent for 'listening to the voters'".
The memo warned that "French and German commitments to NATO are a safeguard against a precipitous departure", offering to use women's rights issues as one of tools to reverse the public opinion.
"Afghan women could serve as ideal messengers in humanising the ISAF role in combating the Taliban", it insisted.
Highlighting that French and German women are eight and 22 percentage points less likely to support the Afghanistan War than men, the document stressed that "media events that feature testimonials by Afghan women would probably be most effective if broadcast on programmes that have large and disproportionately female audiences".
© AP Photo / Mariam ZuhaibAfghan women walk on the road during the first day of Eid al-Fitr in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, May 13, 2021
Afghan women walk on the road during the first day of Eid al-Fitr in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, May 13, 2021
© AP Photo / Mariam Zuhaib
"What made this document so fascinating, so revealing, is the CIA’s discussion of how to manipulate public opinion to ensure it remains at least tolerant if not supportive of Endless War", US independent journalist Glenn Greenwald remarked in his review of the document in November 2020.
While the US media and CIA pushed ahead with their feminist narrative, ordinary Afghan women have not seen much improvement of their life conditions over the last 20 years, according to MacLeod.
He cited a female Afghan member of parliament who outlined three principal problems faced by women in Afghanistan prior to the Taliban takeover: first was the Taliban, second was the US-backed warlords disguised as government, and third was the US occupation. "If you in the West could get the US occupation out, we’d only have two", the Afghan woman said.
*The Taliban and al-Qaeda are terrorist organisations banned in Russia and many other countries.