Saturday, December 22, 2001
What is the truth about this bombed convoy?

If it was full of Al Qaeda fighters, then why would (identifiable) tribal elders say it was full of other tribal elders? If it was full of tribal elders, why would the Pentagon insist on a line that will make them look like bare faced liars in two days time?

It seems to me that neither side has a stake in sticking to its story if not true. But one side is sticking to what is probably a lie.

There are of course two other explanations. One side may not know the full story, although how likely is that in reality? They're not journalists for God's sake. Both US intelligence and the elders' local knowledge is likely to give a good picture of what happened, at least after the event.

Alternatively they could have been both Taliban leaders and tribal elders. After all Pashtun elders are likely to have been Taliban leaders, or at least allies. However if they are no longer Taliban leaders and have switched sides (and if they were going to Kabul to see Kharzai sworn in, which is what this alternative would have presupposed, they did switch sides) then this would tend to confirm the tribal elders' position.

If I had to make a call, and I certainly don't feel confident doing so, I would say that the elders are probably right - and that the Americans made a mistake. If this is the case, do they know that they've made a mistake? Their intelligence must be good enough to have confirmed the real facts on the ground.

So if this is a deliberate lie, why do they continue with it? Probably panic rather than malice. Expect a quiet admission between 24 and 27 December. This may work in the West where the spin doctors honed their skill, but aren't they forgetting that the Muslim world doesn't celebrate Christmas?

As usual I hope I'm proved wrong.


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