Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Tillerson in Kabul? Two Photos Lead to Many Questions

By MUJIB MASHAL, OCTOBER 23, 2017, New York Times; via MF on Facebook

Image from article, with attribution: U.S. State Department

Image from article, with caption: Office of the President of Afghanistan 

It was Kabul and it wasn’t Kabul. There was a clock and there wasn’t a clock.

Soon after a two-hour secret visit to Afghanistan by Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson on Monday was publicly disclosed, the American Embassy [see; text posted below] and the office U.S. State Department Office of the President of Afghanistan of President Ashraf Ghani made statements about their productive meeting in Kabul.

The problem is that the meeting was not in Kabul, but in a windowless room in Bagram, the heavily fortified American military base a 90-minute drive away. The misinformation, apparently meant to obscure the true venue, was betrayed by discrepancies in similar photographs released by the Americans and the Afghans.

Both show Mr. Tillerson and Mr. Ghani sitting at the head of the room, two giant television screens behind them. On the coffee table between them are a thermos, two cups and bottled water. Their delegations sit across from each other.

But the version released by Mr. Ghani’s office erased the large digital clock showing “Zulu time” — the military term for Coordinated Universal Time — and a red fire alarm behind Mr. Tillerson and Mr. Ghani, in what would be a giveaway that it was an American military facility.

Image from article, with caption: The photo released by the office of Afghanistan’s president, where a clock above the television sets was removed.

Mr. Ghani’s office did not immediately respond to queries about why its version of the photo was different. Mr. Tillerson and his staff, who traveled to Iraq after leaving Afghanistan, did not immediately respond early Tuesday to questions about the discrepancy.

“There is no question that the photo has been manipulated,” said Hany Farid, an expert in photo forensics and a professor of computer science at Dartmouth College.

Mr. Farid said the method was most likely done through Photoshop, editing software that can delete objects and refill the space. But this particular alteration was easily detectable.

The cable on the wall to power the clock and the fire alarm was not completely obscured in the altered version, instead appearing to fade into the wall. Security concerns for the visit of someone as high profile as Mr. Tillerson are justified because of the Taliban’s resurgence. Last month more than 50 rockets landed at and around Kabul airport during Defense Secretary James Mattis’s visit.

But many Afghans may see the altered photo of Mr. Tillerson’s visit as evidence of a government effort to twist facts to package a positive narrative, both to its international partners as well as its citizens.

While the photo manipulation may be new, the Afghan government has changed facts before.

On at least one occasion, when the Taliban have overrun the center of a district, the government has relocated the local administration compound to another area so it can say “no, the district has not fallen.”

Secretary Tillerson and President Ghani met in Kabul on October 23 and together reaffirmed the U.S.-Afghan commitment to achieving peace, stability, and long-term prosperity in Afghanistan.  The Secretary stated that the new U.S. strategy for South Asia makes clear the United States’ commitment to working with the government of Afghanistan and with partners across the region to achieve peace in Afghanistan and deny safe havens to terrorists who threaten that goal.  President Ghani reiterated his support for the new U.S. strategy and emphasized his government’s commitment to reforms aimed at ensuring the safety, security, and well-being of all Afghans.

[JB vulgar comment:] But what are these circular metal objects facing the officials/disps in the above pix all about? Not-so-well-hidden urinals/latrines in a "secure" location?

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