September 8th, 2009
05:43 PM ET

Pentagon puts a hold on media briefings

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Mike Mount
Senior Pentagon Producer

For at least four years now the Pentagon has been hosting satellite-linked video briefings from Iraq and Afghanistan allowing reporters that cover the building to ask questions of U.S. and coalition commanders in charge of specific regions of those countries.

There is no set schedule, generally we get an even mix of briefings from Iraq and Afghanistan during any given week.

So when we were told this week we would be having two more briefings from Iraq, it was time to ask why we had not had any briefings from commanders in Afghanistan in a number of weeks.

After all, Afghanistan is the Obama administration's military imperative. It is a key time in that country with disputed national elections, new U.S. commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal was handing over as assessment of the country to the President and Taliban influence and fighting was getting stronger by the day.

For the most part, the briefings are helpful and offer insight into parts of the country not often reported on. The briefers can range from colonels in command of a brigade and are close to the action, to generals who oversee large swaths of the country.

If a topic has been fully discussed journalists will often get creative and ask questions of the commanders to get insights on bigger stories going on outside of their command. The Pentagon benefits from these briefings as well, offering commanders up once or twice a week to the press to get their messages out as well.

In fairness, Secretary Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen took questions on Iraq and Afghanistan just last week, an Afghan general discussed how air combat training is going, and dual NATO spokesmen briefed Pentagon journalists on events earlier in August.

While helpful, its just not the same as access to ground commanders where intense fighting is going on in the south and the eastern parts of the country.

The last real briefing from a U.S. commander in Afghanistan was on August 4th of this year, one month ago. There have been six Iraq briefings with US officers since then.

So we asked Price Floyd, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, what was going on.

It turns out the Obama administration put a stop to any information coming out of Afghanistan during the lead-up to Gen. McChrystal's Afghanistan assessment, in addition to the information blackout already set by military leaders to prevent any leaks on the widely anticipated report.

"The administration is not putting out senior officials - military and civilian - to talk about the assessment and we are allowing the national security team to have the time to digest and discuss the assessment," Floyd said.

While the President has seen the assessment, it is expected Sec. Gates will deliver the version with comments by senior military leaders attached this week.

All in all it is unclear if the public will be told much about this assessment as no unclassified version was created.

The only way we know the administration will be ready to talk is when we are told briefings by U.S. commanders in Afghanistan are once again scheduled.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Afghanistan • Mike Mount
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Victor in Saanich, B.C. Canada

    " A winning solution" – Sound familiar to all who remember Vietnam??? !!!!
    Rising death tolls can be found at the doorstep of troop rotation. You can't take troops out of a war zone and bring them back in as they lose the battlefield edge. The high casualty rate in Vietnam came fron new troops being brought in all the time.
    If it is a 'war', declare it so and start the draft as ALL should have to then partake! If it is a war, then fight it as such and disreregard 'collateral' damage as the 'enemy' seems to!! Don't tie the hands of the troops with parameters of military conduct and have the citizens of the host country initiate a full draft of their citizens 18 – 50!!!

    September 9, 2009 at 2:58 am |
  2. Annie Kate

    This sounds like what my parents have told me about WW2 – censureship was the rule of the day then – remember the "Loose Lips Sink Ships" adage? I suppose if people aren't suppose to talk about something then not having media briefings is the best way to go. I've thought several times during this war that perhaps we were telling more than we should – once its on the internet anyone can read it – even the terrorists and Taliban.

    September 8, 2009 at 7:40 pm |