The U.S. military increasing its presence in Iraq, missing embedded journalists

An embedded civilian journalist taking photographs of US soldiers. Photo credit: Wikipedia commons

The media is noticing that although the U.S. military is increasing its presence in Iraq, it is failing to embed journalists.

The Washington Post wrote extensively on this issue, reporting that in the near future there will be over 30,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.  Their goal will be to training 45,000 Iraqi soldiers so that they can defend their country against Islamic State militants.

Notably missing is embedded independent journalists.

Since the current program started in 2003 in Iraq, thousands of journalists have embedded with U.S. military personnel in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  During the U.S. invasion in March 2003, the Department of Defense reported 692 journalists were present during the incident.

The goal of the modern embedding initiative was to saturate media coverage with wartime activities.  A 2004 report by the Institute of Defense Analyses indicated that the program was designed to counter third-party propaganda and to develop U.S. and international support.

When the U.S. pulled out most of its troops from Iraq in 2011, the media embeds left with them.  Although they were welcome in the past, in the recent months since President Obama began sending military advisors to Iraq and attacking militants with airstrikes, journalists have yet been entirely invited back in the fold.

“Given these small numbers of U.S. troops, there is currently no capacity to host embeds in Iraq,” according to Army Maj. Curt Kellogg, a spokesman with the U.S. Central Command. “As Operation Inherent Resolve progresses, we will continue to examine ways to best facilitate media coverage.”

“We recognize that this is something that we need to improve upon,” said Rear Adm. John Kirby.  “It truly does come down to infrastructure,” he added, referring to the helicopters, vehicles and other resources that reporters use alongside the troops.  He also hinted that media access may improve after the military sets up its new headquarters.  However, at the same time, he said it will probably not be the same as it was before.

Kirby indicated that the reason behind the lack of embedding journalists was also partly due to the fact that the U.S. military is now in the country on the request of the Iraqi government.  He said officials in Baghdad would have to approve any media program implemented.

“It’s still the Iraqis’ war. It’s not the Americans’ war,” Kirby said. “We have Iraqi partners that get a vote here.”

According to The Washington Post, Kirby disagreed with the idea that the Pentagon is trying to hide occurrences in Iraq.  While only information on airstrikes and occasional humanitarian airdrops is being released, he stated that it was because the current mission is “much more discrete” than counterinsurgency.  It requires constant patrolling and tens of thousands of troops providing security while residing on small bases amongst local residents.

The admiral also pointed out that the military has been holding regular media briefings, has released detailed updates on airstrikes and has even taken journalists aboard Navy ships.

The Washington Post reported that the U.S.-led coalition force in Afghanistan continues to take media embeds, even as U.S. military participation there decreases.  On the International Security Assistance Force website, it is warned that journalist embeds can be no longer be more than 24 hours.  To be there for an extended period of time, it must be at the request and approval of a top coalition commander.  Drew Brooks, with the Fayetteville Observer, can attest that stays beyond the 24 hours does occur having recently spent several days with the troops.

Embedding journalists allows the media the ability to report on the dangers faced in war zones.  It gives them the capability of sharing with the world the intricacy of military operations and the unique culture of the U.S. soldiers who make things happen.  The program provides the public with an insider’s view of the status of a military initiative as well as the ability to empathize with the troops facing danger, all the while thinking about the people they care about back home.

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