The area of Marjah in Afghanistan, scene of the most recent ISAF campaign, is an open plain, with a few farms and local farmers markets.
General Petraeus, previously described by his superior officer as “an ass kissing little chickenshit,” has made clear that describing Marjah as a “town of 80,000 inhabitants” was a disinformation campaign tactic aimed at US domestic public opinion.
Time magazine wrote about the "town of 80,000" Feb. 9, and the Washington Post did the same Feb. 11. The Associated Press further confused the issue in a Feb. 21 story, referring to "three markets in town - which covers 80 square miles…." A "town" with an area of 80 square miles would be bigger than such U.S. cities as Washington, D.C.
For details see http://www.counterpunch.org/porter03082010.html for Gareth Porter’s article: “It turns out, however, that the picture of Marja presented by military officials and obediently reported by major news media is one of the clearest and most dramatic pieces of misinformation of the entire war, apparently aimed at hyping the offensive as a historic turning point in the conflict. Marja is not a city or even a real town, but either a few clusters of farmers' homes or a large agricultural area covering much of the southern Helmand River Valley.”
“A central task of "information operations" in counterinsurgency wars is "establishing the COIN [counterinsurgency] narrative", according to the Army Counterinsurgency Field Manual as revised under Gen. David Petraeus in 2006.
“The COIN manual asserts that news media "directly influence the attitude of key audiences toward counterinsurgents, their operations and the opposing insurgency." The manual refers to "a war of perceptions…conducted continuously using the news media."
“Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of ISAF, was clearly preparing to wage such a war in advance of the Marja operation. In remarks made just before the offensive began, McChrystal invoked the language of the counterinsurgency manual, saying, "This is all a war of perceptions."
“The Washington Post reported Feb. 22 that the decision to launch the offensive against Marja was intended largely to impress U.S. public opinion with the effectiveness of the U.S. military in Afghanistan by showing that it could achieve a "large and loud victory."”
Those clever old French philosophers noted some years ago that what matters is not the “truth,” as generally believed, but “the convincingness of your narrative.”
So it goes. The dance card is full. The dance continues.