The Factual is using its AI-powered algorithm to identify the best news and analysis on key topics in 2021. This week, we’ve built a dataset of 3,286 articles about Afghanistan from over 240 major news sources and organizations from January 1, 2020 to May 5, 2021. Using the Factual Grade — a measure of an article’s information value based on four quantifiable metrics — we can then determine which publishers, authors, and specific articles are delivering the most well-researched journalism and analysis on the topic. 

People have written extensively about Afghanistan for years, but incisive journalism and analysis is still emerging and will be critical to inform the American public about what may be the last chapter of American military involvement. The big worry now is that the withdrawal of American troops could send the country back into chaos, with ramifications for U.S. security and the stability of the region at large. That makes the coming months in Afghanistan a likely political flashpoint — and accurate, well-researched reporting on the country all the more valuable. 

The Topic: U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan

The U.S., like Britain and the U.S.S.R. before it, is set to pull military forces out of Afghanistan after a long, costly, and ultimately inconclusive presence. Behind the Biden administration’s decision to withdrawal military forces is a complex web of drivers both for and against continued U.S. military involvement. Reasons to remain include the growing influence of the Taliban, the fragility of the Afghan government and its security forces, and the renewed threat of humanitarian crisis. At the same time, the war is unpopular in the U.S., costly, and seemingly going nowhere. Indeed, this has led the Biden administration to conclude that a continued U.S. military presence will not change fundamental dynamics on the ground and will not contribute to any sustainable long-term solution. Though it may run against the advice of some top military officials, the Biden administration is choosing what it sees as the lesser of two evils by discontinuing one of America’s “forever wars.”

Finding The Best News Sources

So how do we determine who produces the best news and analysis on a topic? We look at four metrics relevant to almost any web article: the number and diversity of links and direct quotes, the writing tone, the topical expertise of the author, and the publishing history of the hosting site. (To find out more about how these work, watch this video or see our How It Works page.) The combination of these four metrics gives us a percentage score, what we call the Factual Grade, which is essentially a measure of how well-researched and credible an article is. A Factual Grade of 80% or higher is quite difficult to obtain — just 5% of articles in our dataset did so.

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For this analysis, we wanted to determine which news sources consistently produced the best scoring articles about the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. To build our dataset, we sorted through all articles analyzed by The Factual between January 1, 2020 and May 5, 2021 (491 days) to find those articles that had keywords like “Afghanistan,” “Kabul,” and “Taliban” in the title. Then, we zeroed in on those sources with the highest average score over at least five articles (Note: this threshold is quite low because news on Afghanistan has been scarce over this time period, especially when compared to a topic like Covid-19).

There are some obvious limitations to our dataset. For example, The Factual looks at 10,000+ articles everyday does not verifiably analyze everything published in U.S. media. Likewise, our selected keywords may miss some stories. However, we have strong reasons to believe our data captures key elements of quality news.

The Top 5 News Sources on the War in Afghanistan

  1. Lawfare
    Average Factual Grade: 78%  |  Number of Articles Scored: 16  |  Publisher Bias: Moderate Left

    As a blog entirely focused on foreign policy and issues of national security, it is no surprise that Lawfare tops our list. As the authors first wrote in 2010, “Lawfare refers both to the use of law as a weapon of conflict and, perhaps more importantly, to the depressing reality that America remains at war with itself over the law governing its warfare with others.”

    Highest Scoring Article: “The U.S. Gets U.N. Support for the Taliban Deal
    Author: Pamela Falk and Jacques Singer-Emery  |  Factual Grade: 88%

  2. Brookings Institute
    Average Factual Grade: 76%  |  Number of Articles Scored: 9  |  Publisher Bias: Moderate Left

    Brookings is one of the country’s preeminent think tanks, serving as a key outlet for expert analysis on national security topics and the ongoing U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

    Highest Scoring Article: “Americans are not unanimously war-weary on Afghanistan
    Author: Madiha Afzal and Israa Saber  |  Factual Grade: 84%

  3. Vox
    Average Factual Grade: 76%  |  Number of Articles Scored: 24  |  Publisher Bias: Left

    Vox specializes in explaining the news as much as recounting it. That means articles are typically laced with extensive detail, including perspectives on how we got here, where we are going next, and why it matters.

    Highest Scoring Article: “The US and Taliban take a first step toward a peace deal in Afghanistan
    Author: Jen Kirby  |  Factual Grade: 83%

  4. War on the Rocks
    Average Factual Grade: 75%  |  Number of Articles Scored: 8  |  Publisher Bias: Center

    Self-described as a national security outlet for realists, War on the Rocks is a specialized news outlet with strong appeal in the defense and security community. Strong topical expertise makes this a key outlet for updates and clear thinking on Afghanistan.

    Highest Scoring Article: “A New Look at Iran’s Complicated Relationship with the Taliban
    Author: Barnett Rubin  |  Factual Grade: 84%

  5. The Bulwark
    Average Factual Grade: 74%  |  Number of Articles Scored: 5  |  Publisher Bias: Moderate Right

    The Bulwark is a conservative, anti-Trump news and opinion website established in 2018. Since its founding, it has helped ask important questions about U.S. policy in Afghanistan, under both Biden and Trump.

    Highest Scoring Article: “The Case for an Imperfect Solution in Afghanistan
    Author: Sasha Kassam  |  Factual Grade: 80%

How Do Top Mainstream Outlets Perform?

It can be useful context to see how major news outlets performed on the same metrics. With a specific topic like Afghanistan, it’s no surprise that niche, national security outlets outscore many major outlets overall.

News Source

Average Factual Grade

# of Articles Scored

ABC News



NBC News






New York Times



Washington Post



Wall Street Journal









Fox News






Check out our companion articles:

The Best Journalists on the War in Afghanistan

The Best Articles on the War in Afghanistan in 2021

Published by Phillip Meylan

Phillip is a writer, researcher, and editor. At The Factual, he leads research efforts that utilize the company's ever growing data on the media ecosystem. He is also a contributor to FP Analytics, Foreign Policy's research and advisory division, and an adjunct fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.