By Air Force Staff Sgt. Rachel Martinez
Special to American Forces Press Service
Jan. 9, 2009 - Fourteen journalists and cameramen from Afghan news agencies gained a better understanding of the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing's close-air-support mission during an Afghan media day here. The Jan. 5 event, hosted by the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing and Bagram Airfield Media Operations Center, included tours of the F-15E Strike Eagle and the A-10 Thunderbolt II, as well as a briefing from the wing commander, Air Force Brig. Gen. James M. Holmes.
Media days like this one are aimed at building trust among the Afghan population through media coverage of U.S. and coalition missions, officials said.
"The media helps us do our job by keeping us in check and reporting on what we do," Holmes said. "It's important the people of Afghanistan understand how we operate, how we are here to help, and the media plays a key role in accomplishing that."
The conflict in Afghanistan is just as much an information war as it is a kinetic one, Holmes said. Defense Department public affairs officials strive to provide timely and accurate information; however, succeeding at the information war becomes a challenge when competing with an enemy who is not concerned with facts, officials said.
Since insurgents are effective at getting their story out, it's essential for U.S. and coalition forces to engage the media to ensure balanced coverage, officials said.
"To our knowledge, the Afghan media had not been engaged like this before," Army Capt. Jennifer Martin, from the Bagram Airfield Media Operations Center, said. "It's really important we engage the Afghan media because we're in their country. They need to understand what we are doing, how we are doing it, where we are doing it and how it affects them."
An Afghan reporter who participated in the media day said he gained a better understanding of close-air support.
"There are many civilian casualty concerns, but I have learned how the Air Force tries to avoid it and how much they make the aircraft effective in fighting the insurgents," Sharif Khoram, with Agence Free Press News Agency, said. "It was all explained to me."
The media operations center here has hosted multiple Afghan media days in the past year, with plans for future engagements in the months ahead.
"A lot of coverage is slanted in a negative nature against us," Army 1st Lt. Meagan Newsom, of the media operations center, said. "It's not that they are trying to make us look bad, but how can they report fairly on something they don't fully understand?
"We want [the media] to know so they can go out and tell the Afghan people what the Air Force is here to do," Newsom continued. "It's very important to tell the coalition story through the Afghan eyes; they tell it best."
(Air Force Staff Sgt. Rachel Martinez serves in the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing public affairs office.)