In the wake of a bloody weekend in Afghanistan we've had the usual flurry of news reports and op-eds "explaining" what's going on and rationalising the never-ending violence in the country.
Why are media pundits so keen to justify this war? Earlier this year John Brissenden - a senior lecturer in media at Bournemouth University - argued on the New Left Project website that the idea of public opinion influencing Nato or British activity in Afghanistan was "a convenient myth."
Brissenden's claim chimes with a strong thread of cynicism among the British public.
But a look at recent Afghanistan coverage even in my own local paper suggests that the British government and military are very concerned about public opinion.
Two reports over the summer from the Eastern Daily Press, which has a circulation of nearly 60,000, illustrate the point.
In one it published a story about a bomb-disposal dog-handler from Norfolk. It was entitled One man and his dog are saving lives.
The other reported on the local regiment, the Light Dragoons, discovering a stash of explosives under the headline Dragon's life-saving find.
Both stories present British soldiers in Afghanistan as a benign and positive presence - indeed both titles refer to them as life-savers.
Importantly the journalists who wrote the articles told me that both stories originated from the military - the first sent in by a soldier's wife, the second from a military press officer.
The overwhelming majority of recent Eastern Daily Press coverage of Afghanistan has come from a trip to the country in June by its reporter Chris Hill.
Embedded with the Royal Anglican Regiment in Helmand, Hill published a week-long series of first-hand reports under titles like East Anglian soldiers playing a crucial role in Afghanistan's future.
Embedded journalism is disastrous for the newspaper reader in many ways - not least because the journalists' copy is vetted by the army before publication.
The Guardian's Luke Harding has pointed out that the British military "manipulates the parcelling of 'embeds' to suit their own ends. They use it as a form of punishment to journalists who are off-message or critical of strategy and tactics."
Stephen Grey, who has been embedded in Afghanistan himself, agrees: "The key point, say journalists, is that the MoD (Ministry of Defence) is controlling them in order to convey what senior officers refer to as the 'official narrative'."
The result? As Harding says, "we have been constantly told that everything is fluffy and good - and we, and the public, have been lied to."
Blatant military propaganda threads through Hill's reports. "The war in Afghanistan has taken a painful toll on the East Anglian regiments who have fought for the freedom of the country," he argues.
Yes - apparently the US and Britain invaded Afghanistan to bring "freedom." And "freedom" was probably why they funded the most bloodthirsty sections of the mojahedin to fight the Soviets in the 1980s.
As the radical comedian Robert Newman once quipped: "You will not find that level of naivety anywhere outside of 1970s porno films."
Hill says that British soldiers are "securing freedom and safety for the population."
But a 2010 article in a national newspaper reported: "Tens of thousands of Afghan civilians are abandoning an area of central Helmand province where UK and US forces are set to launch one of the biggest operations of the year."
The same year the head of the UN monitoring mission on the Taliban explained the relationship between occupying troops and levels of violence.
"Foreign troops push into areas where they haven't been before and if the Taliban is there they will start fighting. Then it's not calm. It's not calm because foreign forces have pushed in."
This analysis is backed by the latest report from the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office on a reported reduction in violence, which said: "The international military forces' disengagement is the cause of the armed opposition groups' de-escalation, not the other way round, as by removing themselves they remove the key driver of the armed opposition groups' campaign."
Elsewhere Hill refers to the "capable and patriotic warriors" of the Afghan army and police as loyal allies, despite the explosion of "green on blue" attacks.
Reporting from a British army patrol, he notes that "the feeling at the bazaar seemed very positive. Grateful villagers welcomed the troops."
Hill is presumably simply reporting what he saw, but it's far from a complete picture.
A 2011 survey by the International Council on Security and Development found that 99 out of 100 military-age men interviewed in Sangin "think Nato military operations are bad for the Afghan people."
The same proportion thought foreign troops disrespected the local religion and traditions.
These examples show that the British military is making concerted efforts to present the occupation of Afghanistan in a positive light.
No doubt this propaganda campaign is a response to the fact that public opinion is overwhelmingly against the war.
A ComRes poll last March found that 55 per cent of respondents thought British troops should be withdrawn immediately, with the same number believing that the threat of terrorism on British soil is increased by our forces remaining in Afghanistan.
The public is not just facing a PR campaign by the government and military.
In 2010 the Telegraph reported on a leaked confidential CIA strategy document on influencing European public opinion.
A steep increase in French or German casualties could trigger public anger at their involvement and calls for a military pullout, it warned.
It recommended that Paris and Berlin start a targeted propaganda campaign to "forestall or at least contain" a backlash by stating the benefits of military action.
Afghan women, it notes, are "ideal messengers in humanising the [international coalition's] role."
Public opinion clearly does have an influence on the war in Afghanistan - why else would our government and military expend time and resources trying to manipulate it otherwise?
Public opinion on Afghanistan is currently not mobilised, organised or angry enough to directly affect policy - that's another issue.
But, as with the anti-Vietnam war movement in the US, public opinion is likely to be a constant concern for the government and military when considering future operations.
"There is a general policy by the MoD to keep the horror of what's going on in Afghanistan out of the public domain, and that's probably for political reasons," a senior officer told the Telegraph back in 2008.
"If the real truth were known it would have a huge impact on army recruiting and the government would come under severe pressure to withdraw the troops."
Public opinion has had an influence on British involvement in Afghanistan - as Rajiv Chandrasekan notes in his new book Little America, an increase in British casualties in 2009 meant that "the public's weak support for the war dipped further at home, prompting calls for a change in strategy. Britain's stance in Helmand needed to shift if Gordon Brown's wanted to prevent an outright revolt" in the Labour Party.
The result? The government informed "the Obama administration that it would not increase forces."
In 2009 another embedded Eastern Daily Press journalist in Afghanistan reported on British troops conducting a "hearts and minds operation" to "increase confidence among locals."
It seems that much of the "journalism" concerning Afghanistan is part of a far larger "hearts and minds" operation directed at a target of more importance to our government - the British public.
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