Look! Herat is so safe you can buy popcorn on the street! (ISAFMedia photo)

On Tuesday, US forces in Afghanistan released a propaganda push highlighting “progress” in the city of Herat as the beacon of how Afghanistan is moving toward peace and being able to defend itself.   Look, in the photo you can see that you can actually buy popcorn on the streets of Herat!  The next day, on Wednesday, a US helicopter killed two more civilians, including at least one child.  The initial press release by ISAF on this attack was produced only in propaganda mode, bleating the death of a Haqqani network leader and making false claims about “protecting” civilians who unexpectedly appeared in the area while helicopters were attacking their target.

To the extent that there is a mission in Afghanistan, the US is now there to provide security while the Afghan government and defense forces develop to the point that Afghanistan can provide its own security after we leave.  That means that it is vital for the US military to “prove” that it is making progress toward that end, and so ISAF puts much effort into providing propaganda showing how wonderful things are.  On Tuesday, we had this gem:

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai named Herat as a transitional city during a speech in Kabul, today.

Development, governance and commerce in Herat happen at a rate higher than many other areas, and Afghans will take the lead in defending national sovereignty and tranquility here.

Life in Herat is vibrant, and the city is a benchmark of progress, said Brig. Gen. Sayed Agha Saqueb, Herat Provincial Afghan National Police chief.

If Hearat is so wonderful and safe, why wasn’t Karzai there to make his proclamation?  And the most wonderful part of all in this press release:

The ANP is providing the security for all districts in Herat, while the 207th Afghan National Army Corps, based at Camp Zafar, assists, said the general. The ANP assures roughly 80 percent of security in the area.

See?  All that training that Saint David Petraeus has ordered to take place is working!  This press release would have us dancing in the streets of Herat and buying the popcorn that ISAFMedia so dutifully captured in their photo.  But, oops, the propaganda factory must have been working overtime, because a bit of off-message information slipped through:

“Making a living is getting better day by day,” Saqueb said. “We have many factories and industrial states. We have electricity, the border with Iran and Turkmenistan, and there are many activities with merchant and other aspects with these two countries.”

Some unfortunate propaganda writer will be in a bit of trouble for letting out that trade with Iran could possibly be one aspect of the vibrancy of Herat.

In the meantime, only one day after producing this “feel good” piece on Herat, ISAF propaganda generators kicked into high gear to trumpet a helicopter attack on a Haqqani network leader:

Coalition forces conducted a precision airstrike targeting a Haqqani network leader, killing two insurgents and wounding one in Terayzai district, Khost province today.

The Haqqani leader is involved in the supply of weapons, ammunition, and vehicles to HQN operatives and participates in direct attacks against Afghan and coalition forces.

Coalition forces called in a precision air strike and the targeted vehicle was destroyed.

Just prior to the weapon impact, an unassociated civilian vehicle and two pedestrians walking in a wadi appeared, next to the target vehicle.

Immediately following the strike, the civilian vehicle came to a stop. Seven passengers were observed walking away from the non-target vehicle. Afghan National Security Forces spoke with the driver of the vehicle who stated there were no injuries to anyone in his vehicle.

The disposition of the two pedestrians walking in the wadi is not known at this time. Efforts are under way to confirm their status.

This press release is just such a beautiful piece of propaganda. It was a “precision air strike” that “destroyed” the “targeted vehicle”. The target was an evil person, involved in supplying weapons to those who attack US forces in the area. And, best of all, the attack spared some civilians who just “appeared” on the scene just prior to “impact” of the weapon. The civilians in a vehicle were spared. Isn’t ISAF awesome?

But, the “efforts” to “confirm the status” of the two pedestrians came to a sad end, as reported in the Washington Post:

A NATO helicopter gunship inadvertently killed two civilians while attacking suspected insurgents in the northern province of Khost, NATO announced Thursday.

/snip/

“At the time of the strike, two civilians were walking near the moving targeted vehicle,” NATO said Thursday. “They were previously unseen by coalition forces prior to the initiation of the airstrike. Unfortunately both were killed as an unintended result of the strike.”

Khost provincial police chief Abdul Hakim Ishaqzai said at least one of the civilians was a child.

Perhaps ISAF should be a little slower to rush propaganda pieces to the wires while there is still a chance that an attack they are trumpeting actually ended up killing another innocent child.