Five Fort Bliss soldiers serving in Afghanistan were shot Tuesday by an Afghan wearing an Afghan Army uniform. One soldier, Pfc. Jeremy Young of Archdale, N.C., was shot 12 times before the attacker fled on foot and remained “at-large” as of Thursday.
The incident happened in the eastern province of Wardak, known for being a “Taliban hotbed.” (Yes, after nearly 12 years and a million soldiers and a dozen hearings in which generals tell us we’ve broken their momentum, there are still Taliban “hotbeds” in Afghanistan.) This, by the way, was the province where 38 people died when the Taliban shot down a Chinook helicopter carrying mostly U.S. military personnel, plus 8 Afghans, in August 2011.
It’s certainly not the first instance of “green-on-blue” attacks–Afghan “allies” engaging in surprise “fragging” of their international partners. On Monday, three British soldiers were killed in a similar fashion.
According to reports on Thursday, there have been a total of 19 such attacks involving 26 deaths, 13 of them American, as of early July. That nearly equals the number of attacks in all of 2011 — 21, with 35 deaths.
If you haven’t heard about any of this, don’t worry — the story barely registered a blip on the mainstream news radar. Years ago, a report that five soldiers were shot by a supposed Afghan ally would have raised a much bigger ruckus. As for fatalities, I bet you didn’t know we lost 165 servicemen in Afghanistan since the beginning of the year, 77 of them from improvised explosive devices (IED) planted by insurgents. We can only guess how many were injured by these IEDs but did not die because the Pentagon is not very generous with its non-fatal-injury statistics.
For example, according to icasualties.org, which is the best aggregator of such statistics around, there were only three Americans wounded in February, and that is the last month for which there is a record. Right. Seeing that in early March there were reports of soldiers banking their own sperm because the odds they would get their genitals blown off on the next tour of duty were nearly better than the reliability of Hamid Karzai wearing a Karakul hat at his next press conference, the numbers clearly reflect casualty stats the Pentagon wants to see, rather than what they really are.
But in a bubble-like corporate news environment, demand for vigorous reporting on the war now seems to be lacking. Switching on the telly Thursday, one would think the only burning question in America was whether Mitt Romney considers the penalty for not purchasing health insurance under the Affordable Healthcare Act a “tax” or “a penalty,” or as MSNBC’s Chuck Todd demanded with the smoothness of one whose tongue is swollen by bee stings: “so he believes that you should not call the man–the tax … penalty, a tax, you should call it a penalty or a fee or a fine?” He then asks Romney’s advisor to respond to a tweet by Rupert Murdoch calling for the prospective Republican nominee to “drop old friends” and hire a better team.
Stop the presses: Rupert Murdoch tweets? It would seem he has better things to do, considering his own “team” is slowly forming up a chain gang back in the UK. Never mind. It didn’t take long for Romney to change his tune, finally calling the penalty “a tax,” giving Todd and other intrepid political reporters gotcha goosebumps for the rest of the week.
Curiously, reporters never drill down like this on Romney’s foreign-policy views, so no one really knows what he plans to do about Afghanistan if he suddenly finds himself commander-in-chief next January. As someone who has toed the GOP line and criticized Obama’s “timeline” for withdrawing all combat troops by the end of 2013 (in fact he called the plan “naive”), will Romney defer to his generals and freeze the drawdown after his inauguration? If so, what does he plan to do with the 70,000 servicemen and women remaining in-country after that? (As of today there are about 88,000 U.S military still in Afghanistan. If you didn’t know that, again, blame the media.) What are his plans for working with Karzai? Negotiating with the Taliban? Pakistan?
To be fair, President Obama’s 10-year pact with Karzai doesn’t tell us much about his real plans for Afghanistan, either. We know that the majority of U.S. troops are supposed to be out by the end of 2014, but we don’t know how many will remain or in what capacity. We also promise, apparently, to help rebuild Afghanistan, but for how much? Turns out our international partners aren’t hasty to help with training and financial assistance. In fact, they’re making great haste for the exits.
Meanwhile, reports, if you can find them, are painting a grim picture for the future of Afghanistan. First, it seems we are bringing trainers home as fast as the troops, so the quality of the Afghan security forces is likely to be even worse than we expected. Poverty, displacement of civilians, human-rights violations, all are on the rise as we pull out, too.
Second, there are no American-led negotiations with the Taliban to ensure the best outcome, since it is obvious that the Taliban isn’t going anywhere, now or after we leave. There have been some baby steps in talks between Afghan government officials and Taliban, but no real progress can be made until the two major sides get together. No one has pressed Obama, or Romney, about this lately. Where is the diplomacy? It would seem nonexistant on this front–unless you consider Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent “apology” to the Pakistanis, “diplomatic progress.” All it did was re-open the less expensive border crossings for our supply trucks — in other words, back to the status quo.
Third, Karzai wants $4 billion a year in aid, $2 billion of that coming from the U.S. Seriously, do we have this kind of cash? We know our partners don’t.
Which brings us to the money. If ground zero of our national political debate is the ever-expanding federal pie, shouldn’t we pay just a little more attention to what we’re doling out in Afghanistan? The fiscal year 2013 defense budget calls for $88 billion more for the Afghanistan War. That’s less than previous years, but it’s still a lot. ($115.1 billion was approved in 2012, $158.8 billion spent in 2011, and $162.2 billion spent in 2010.) This, of course, does not account for the costs associated with “rebuilding” via USAID or the protracted costs of paying for veterans’ healthcare and disabilities over a lifetime.
Experts say that foreign-policy and national-security issues will continue to take a back seat in the presidential campaign, in part because the candidates’ views are so similar (lacking the tension needed for good copy) and Americans are “war weary” and more concerned with domestic bread-and-butter topics.
But war is a bread-and-butter issue. The military-industrial complex has generated a massive fiscal bubble, being both a jobs program and an economic engine that has become dysfunctional in its size and capacity for corruption and abuse, and unsustainable as we try to live with new budget constraints. We must talk about this because, even if indirectly, it will affect most of us right at the pocketbook and kitchen table.
Furthermore, the candidates’ views may be similar, but they are also largely undefined and will remain that way as long as no one in the media demands they make themselves clear. Instead news outlets have all convinced the rest of us that it’s not really that important. Personally, I see more lives and tax dollars at stake. I see Afghanistan on the precipice of being worse-off than when we got there, despite all the money spent and lives sacrificed.
That should be reason enough to care, at least more than about whether Romney calls a tax a penalty or a mandate a tax.