Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
May 19, 2009

Around the Hindu Kush, 30 is a Magic Number - An Update

Last August my piece Around the Hindu Kush, 30 is a Magic Number quoted 16 media items about different incidents in Afghanistan between February 2006 and August 2008. Each of those incidents involved "30 militants", "30 insurgents" or "30 enemies".

Since then the number 30 has not lost its magic. Here is an update with 18 incidents since August last year all of which involve the magic number:

At least 30 Taliban reported dead in shelling of Pakistan redoubt, DPA, May 14, 2009
Islamabad - At least 30 Taliban fighters were killed Thursday when government artillery fire destroyed their hideout in north-west Pakistan, residents and officials said, as concerns about the fate of thousands of refugees in the region grew amid an escalating humanitarian crisis.


Clashes kill dozens in Afghanistan, AFP, May 5, 2009
Heavy fighting between Taliban and security forces in Afghanistan is believed to have killed about 30 militants and several civilians, a governor says.


Around 30 militants said killed in Afghan attacks, AFP, May 2, 2009
Afghan and international authorities said Saturday that around 30 insurgents had been killed in new clashes in militant hotspots as a district police chief and his guard died in a bombing.


Gunships kill 30 in attack on Taleban, MilitaryNews, April 28
Pakistan sent helicopter gunships and troops to attack Taleban militants in a district covered by a peace deal after strong United States pressure on the nuclear-armed nation to confront insurgents advancing in its northwest.


Pakistani Forces Kill 30 Taliban in Northwest, VOA, April 26, 2009
Pakistani officials say paramilitary forces backed by helicopter gunships have killed at least 30 Taliban militants, including a commander and five deputy commanders, in a northwestern district.


Coalition airstrike kills 20 Taliban militants in Afghanistan, IANS, April 2, 2009
Twenty suspected Taliban militants were killed in an airstrike carried out by the US-led coalition forces in southern Afghanistan, officials said in a statement Thursday.
The Afghan police - backed by NATO troops - killed 30 Taliban, including one of their commanders, in the same Kajaki district Tuesday. A day earlier, another 30 militants were killed in a separate operation in the neighbouring province of Uruzgan.


Afghanistan attacks kill mayor, 30 militants, April 1, 2009, AFP
THE mayor of an Afghan city was killed in a bomb attack and 30 Taliban-linked militants died in a police operation, among separate incidents of violence reported in Afghanistan yesterday.


ANA kill 30 militants, destroy IED cache in Helmand , US Centcom, March 19, 2009
KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghan National Army soldiers advised by Coalition forces killed 30 armed militants in Gereshk Disrict, Helmand Province Thursday.


New Units Quickly in the Afghan Fight, AP, Feb 17, 2009
Militants have attacked several patrols with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, including one ambush by 30 insurgents, Lt. Col. Steve Osterholzer, the brigade spokesman, said.


Troops kill around 30 insurgents in Afghanistan, AFP , Jan 22, 2009
KABUL (AFP) — Afghan and international forces said Thursday they had killed around 30 militants in Afghanistan, 22 of them in NATO air strikes after a patrol was attacked near the Pakistan border.


Pakistan army says airstrikes kill 30 militants, HuffPo, Dec 2, 2008
Pakistani airstrikes and a suspected suicide attack left 34 dead near the Afghan border on Wednesday, security forces said, as the U.S. urged broader action against militants after the Mumbai terror attacks.

Airstrikes in two areas of the Mohmand border region killed 30 suspected militants, a military statement said. It said the strikes were "highly successful" but provided no further details, including whether any civilians were hurt.


More than 30 militants killed in Afghanistan, Xinhua , November 16, 2008
Afghan army backed by the US-led coalition forces have killed more than 30 militants in southern Afghanistan, a coalition statement released here Sunday said. A group of militants Saturday night ambushed Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and coalition forces while they were conducting a reconnaissance patrol in the Nahr Surkh district of Helmand province, the statement said.


Militants kill Afghan governor, 30 rebels killed: officials, AFP, Nov 8, 2008
Afghan government and international military officials said Saturday that Taliban insurgents had gunned down a district governor overnight and about 30 militants had been killed in various clashes.


Two German soldiers die in Afghan day of bloodshed, Times Online, Oct 20, 2008
The deaths, and the murder of Gayle Williams in Kabul, follow a defeat for Taleban forces overnight near Lashkar Gar, the Helmand provincial capital.

Isaf and Afghan troops were reported to have killed more than 30 insurgents and recovered weapons, ammunition, motobikes and other vehicles used by the Taleban, in a raid.


Pakistan Officials: Air Strikes Kill 30 Militants, AP, Oct 19, 2008
Pakistan killed 30 militants close to the Afghan border Sunday as America's top diplomat in the region visited for talks with government leaders, officials said.


30 militants killed in northwest Pakistan, ToI , Sep 14, 2008
ISLAMABAD: At least 30 militants were killed and over 20 injured in air strikes by Pakistani security forces on Sunday in a troubled northwestern tribal region, where the army is conducting a crackdown on the local Taliban.


25 worshippers, 30 Taliban militants killed in two separate incidents in Pak, ANI , Sep 11, 2008
In a fresh spate of killings in Pakistan, at least 25 civilians were killed and 50 injured in a grenade-and-gun attack in a mosque in the Maskanai area of lower Dir, and Pakistani security forces claimed to have gunned down at least 30 Taliban militants in the Bajaur tribal agency.


30 Taliban and 4 police are killed in Afghanistan clashes, EveningNews, August 27, 2008
MORE than 30 Taliban fighters and four policemen were killed in a series of clashes, airstrikes and bombings in Afghanistan, officials said today.

Obviously there is some bias towards the number 30 in the news and reporting from the Hindu Kush. The tells us how unreliable all of these reports really are.

Posted by b on May 19, 2009 at 10:47 UTC | Permalink


come on 2-3 dozen is 30.

Posted by: scott | May 19 2009 13:25 utc | 1

If it was 33, I'd be extremely worried. Since it's 30, I'm just worried.

It's either lazy reporting, or scripted reporting. Frankly, I believe it's both. We know it's propaganda, and rather transparent.

Posted by: Obamageddon | May 19 2009 14:40 utc | 2

it doesn't take much to consider the psychological impact of

'under thirty' vs 'over thirty'. hence 30.

Posted by: annie | May 19 2009 15:00 utc | 3

Thinking back on your Rumsfeld/religion post--are there references to 30 enemies killed anywhere in the Old Testament or Revelations?

Posted by: catlady | May 19 2009 15:06 utc | 4

The correct answer is 42.

Posted by: Pitchforks,Torches&Pikes World | May 19 2009 15:22 utc | 5

One must ask the question as to why a number is even necessary. Of much more import is the fact that "Innocent Civilians" is never mentioned. It's Militants, Rebels, Taliban and Insurgents. Never some innocent family members attending a weddintg or funeral, or just milking their goats on a sunny morning when a bomb drops on them out of nowhere.

Posted by: Obamageddon | May 19 2009 15:30 utc | 6

I always thought forty was the magic number to impress Christians. My guess is that the media has had to make adjustments for inflation.

Posted by: Monolycus | May 19 2009 15:31 utc | 7

I can think of the Thirty Year war, the Peloponnesian war lasted twenty seven years and was followed by the Thirty tyrant period, thirty is the number basic to the Student's probability distribution, thirty is the number of credits necessary for a psychology degree as advertised, thirty was the age of Jesus when he began to preach, Nero was thirty one when killed, thirty is the age when knees begin to fail and thirty is a number chosen once and bureaucratic sloth prevents choosing another one.

Posted by: jlcg | May 19 2009 15:38 utc | 8

Judas Iscariot was paid 30 shekels to betray Jesus.

Posted by: Obamageddon | May 19 2009 15:48 utc | 9

To Cabalistic, this number is associated with the letter "lamed", in form of sickle "to express the maturity of the crop". It corresponds also to the 12th Arcane of the Tarot, the Hanging, which is interpreted generally as the Expiation, the Sacrifice, the Martyrdom.

Posted by: Obamageddon | May 19 2009 15:52 utc | 10

I can't find it right now, but I recall reading that military targeters are required to get permission higher up the chain of command if a certain number of civilians may be killed in an attack.

There was some magic number, so most attacks were designated as being under that nunber.

Not sure if this affects the reports of numbers of dead "bad guys," but it may.

Anyone have a cite, recollection of this?

Posted by: jawbone | May 19 2009 16:51 utc | 11>Number 30 Bus Bombing

Posted by: Obamageddon | May 19 2009 16:57 utc | 12

yea jawbone during the US "shock and awe" mass murder spree that began the illega war on Iraq, Rumsfeld had to sign off (and he did every time) on any bombing projected to kill more than 30 civilians.

Posted by: ran | May 19 2009 17:23 utc | 13

Air war commanders were required to obtain the approval of Defense Secretary
Donald L. Rumsfeld if any planned airstrike was thought likely to result in
deaths of more than 30 civilians. More than 50 such strikes were proposed, and
all of them were approved.>NYT: Rumsfeld approved 50 strikes, each expected to kill 30 civilians

Posted by: Obamageddon | May 19 2009 17:32 utc | 14

Considering the above, of what fate is Rumsfeld worthy?

It reminds me of this song by Pink Floyd per The Final Cut:>The Fletcher Memorial Home

Take all your overgrown infants away somewhere And build them a home, a little place of their own. The Fletcher Memorial Home for Incurable Tyrants and Kings.

And they can appear to themselves every day
On closed circuit T.V.
To make sure they're still real.
It's the only connection they feel.
"Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome, Reagan and Haig,
Mr. Begin and friend, Mrs. Thatcher, and Paisly,
"Hello Maggie!"
Mr. Brezhnev and party.
"Who's the bald chap?"
The ghost of McCarthy,
The memories of Nixon.
And now, adding color, a group of anonymous latin-
American Meat packing glitterati.

Did they expect us to treat them with any respect?
They can polish their medals and sharpen their
Smiles, and amuse themselves playing games for awhile.
Boom boom, bang bang, lie down you're dead.

Safe in the permanent gaze of a cold glass eye
With their favorite toys
They'll be good girls and boys
In the Fletcher Memorial Home for colonial
Wasters of life and limb.

Is everyone in?
Are you having a nice time?
Now the final solution can be applied.

Posted by: Obamageddon | May 19 2009 17:53 utc | 15

Don't trust any bodies over thirty.

Posted by: biklett | May 19 2009 17:54 utc | 16

Dirty Thirty - The World According To Garp.

Who said it, and to whom?

Posted by: Obamageddon | May 19 2009 17:56 utc | 17

You guys!! Stop!

Posted by: Jake | May 19 2009 18:19 utc | 18

Thirty -30 - Pieces of Silver

The money Judas Iscariot received for betraying Jesus to the authorities. He later threw the money into the Temple of Jerusalem, and the chief priests bought the “potter’s field” with it, to be used as a cemetery for foreigners. 1
This money is referred to as “blood money”—money received for the life of another human being. 2
‡ “Thirty pieces of silver” is also used proverbially to refer to anything paid or given for a treacherous act.

Posted by: anna missed | May 19 2009 18:43 utc | 19

@Jake- yeah, I am wondering too ...

Posted by: b | May 19 2009 18:56 utc | 20


i remember that post & this 30 number seems to run in a parallel course with 'second-in-command' - ever since the invasion of afghanistan & iraq & now pakistan & including kashmir - this number & that phrase are spewed out to satisfy the bloodlust of the bent boys on editorial boards around the globe

there is of course another name for all this running the whole gamut of kabbalic numbers - slaughter

obama has clearly taken on his bit part in the managing of this abbatoir they call the future

Posted by: remembereringgiap | May 19 2009 19:57 utc | 21

The military needs to reprogram their automatic prees release program. They have to include a random number generator. I hope they remember to put in some limits so the numbers don't go too high. Otherwise, we'll really think it's Vietnam all over again.

Posted by: Sgt Dan | May 19 2009 20:33 utc | 22

@18 & 20,
I apologize for finding humor in absurdity.

Posted by: biklett | May 19 2009 22:48 utc | 23

T.S. Garp to baby-sitter. There was a dark sex scene with the ubiquitous, for Irving stories black dog. The only bears in Garp are set in his own stories.

Posted by: scott | May 20 2009 1:25 utc | 24

This must be part the phenomenon where we kept killing the #3 AlQueda guy in Iraq. It seemed like this was a monthly occurrence for several years. Always announced with utter credulity.

It has been said the television, or is it water fluoridation, has caused widespread dain bramage among Americans. I haven't noticed anything.

Posted by: rapier | May 20 2009 5:03 utc | 25

here's the link NYT: Rumsfeld approved 50 strikes, each expected to kill 30 civilians

maybe it was posted @ 14 and i'm not seeing the link..html?

Posted by: annie | May 20 2009 5:10 utc | 26

oh yeah, somethin's up.

Posted by: annie | May 20 2009 5:10 utc | 27

"There's this macabre kind of calculus that the military goes through on every air strike, where they try to figure out how many dead civilians is dead bad guy worth," says Marc Garlasco [in 2007], who knows the calculus of civilian casualties as well as anyone. At the Pentagon, Garlasco was chief of high value targeting at the start of the Iraq war. He told 60 Minutes how many civilians he was allowed to kill around each high-value target -- targets like Saddam Hussein and his leadership.

"Our number was 30."

Posted by: Leslie | May 20 2009 9:19 utc | 28

Drat--all the embedded links have disappeared again. Whassup? Some bug in the blog software?

Anyway, I can try to find the NYTimes article via the title--Thank you, Ran@13, Obamageddon@14, Annnie@26, and Leslie@28 (I think I was conflating both reports, but haven't looked for the Times article yet.). Biklett, your dark humor@16, for me, really drove home the ugly and dangerous cynicism of the miltary's numbers game. (If I missed anyone, apologies.)

I actually came to note that NPR is reporting today that the US military has investigated the bombings in Farah by on-the-ground inspection and viewing the video from the B1 bomber.

Want to guess how many civilians?

2-3 dozen (avering out to 30!). My goodness.

It's almost totally predictable.

Reuters has an article on it. Will paste URL in case embedded one disappears.

"The U.S. military said on Wednesday 20-35 civilians had been among 80-95 people, mostly Taliban, killed in air strikes in western Afghanistan early this month, disputing the Afghan government's toll of 140 civilians killed."

The Reuters' number of civilians killed slightly lower than from NPR, but close enough for MCM* work. But, really high kill numbers for Taliban! That many in one place? How likely is that?

*MCM--Mainstream Coporate Media

Posted by: jawbone | May 20 2009 17:04 utc | 29

If those Pakistanis really did kill over 1000 Taliban on only $100M, then
SecDef Gates with 30 kills for every $1000M has got some 'splaining to do!!

Posted by: Lucy Arnez | May 21 2009 1:21 utc | 30

30 Taliban killed in Afghan operation: police

Updated at: 1521 PST, Wednesday, June 10, 2009
KANDAHAR: Troops have killed 30 Taliban militants in an operation to clear extremists from troubled areas of Afghanistan ahead of August 20 elections, a police chief said Wednesday.

Posted by: b | Jun 10 2009 17:15 utc | 31

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