Today is our 4,629th day in Afghanistan.
We'll start this morning as we always do; with the latest casualty figures from our ongoing war, courtesy of Antiwar.com:
US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 2,322
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,120
We find this morning's Cost of War passing through: $ 1, 540, 637, 375, 000 .00
There was much written this past weekend about aged veterans returning to the scenes of their battles 7 decades ago. This is a common theme among the military; years or decades hence, old men go back to where for many their formative years took place. Sometimes they even meet their former enemies and share experiences that only men who have fired weapons in anger can.
While the focus has been on some now-pleasant beaches in France, halfway around the world veterans of another conflict are also visiting
...even though there is still a shooting war going on.
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Four years and dozens of surgeries later, the soldiers were flying over the valley again, staring down at the patch of Afghanistan where they were maimed by land mines.
This time, their camouflage uniforms bulged around prosthetic legs and braces. The four men were aboard two clattering U.S. Army helicopters, but they no longer carried M-16s. They weren’t here to fight.
For years, Americans have returned to their old battlefields — from Normandy to Hue — to try to make sense of their wars. But the four men who had served with the Army’s 4th Infantry Division weren’t waiting for the war to end. They and dozens of other veterans have gone back to Iraq and Afghanistan to seek closure, with the encouragement of the U.S. military.
This time, the four men would return home on their own terms.
About 2.6 million service members fought in either Iraq or Afghanistan, and more than 800,000 returned to the United States with physical or psychological wounds. Many of those who were medically evacuated feel like they were shortchanged — forced to leave their units, plucked prematurely from battle.
The guilt nagged at Capt. Matt Anderson, 30, whose foot shattered when he stepped on an improvised explosive device, or IED.
“I was supposed to be with my men, not in a hospital,” he said.
During his rehabilitation, Anderson heard about Operation Proper Exit, a privately funded program that has helped more than 70 wounded veterans return for visits to Iraq and Afghanistan. After months of planning, the former platoon leader and three of his soldiers arrived in Kabul on a recent morning. Two of the men had left the military; two were still serving.
Back home, their families thought they were crazy.
“My wife thinks the trip is going to bring it all back up again,” Sgt. Daniel Harrison said.
“What if it makes you worse?” Sgt. Ryan McIntosh’s wife asked him. “What if it makes you relive it?”
It's a curious thing - generally, veterans wait until peace returns to a region before they deign to visit it. But with the war in Afghanistan stretching a third of the way into its second decade, and perhaps the end in sight, it seems like the thing to do. But it's that decade and a half of war that's got me reflective at the moment. I've been writing this column for a very long time now; it can grind on you after a time.
There's a General in our military that like many, is seduced by the siren-call of war; he's looking and thinking about Iran. But that's not what I want to point out; it's a little statement he made that America is not tired of war
ABU DHABI — The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has rejected the notion that the U.S. is politically exhausted during his visit to the United Arab Emirates this week.
Army Gen. Martin Dempsey also stated that if the diplomatic track with Iran fails, the military option remains and that the U.S. is capable.
A delegation headed by Dempsey arrived here on Wednesday to take part in the Joint Strategic Military Dialogue with UAE Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Hamad Thani al Rumaithi and Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the deputy supreme commander of the UAE’s armed forces.
In an interview with Sky News Arabia, the Armed Forces Press Service reported that Dempsey denied the U.S. is politically or militarily exhausted.
“In fact, it would be a mistake to decide that we are politically exhausted or weary militarily,” the chairman told Sky News.
Concern about political or military weariness has been growing in the gulf due to the 13-year engagement in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The withdrawal of troops from Iraq and the coming drawdown in Afghanistan are offered as proof of this weariness, Dempsey said, and extrapolated to predict a broad U.S. withdrawal from the region.
But this is not the case, he stressed, citing what has happened to al-Qaida as an example.
Al-Qaida was a centralized organization based out of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The United States and its allies — including the United Arab Emirates — put pressure on the terror organization. Central al-Qaida is a shadow of its former self, but the group has adapted, he said.
“They have taken advantage of unsettled and ungoverned spaces elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa,” the general said. “The terror group is a long-term problem and not one the United States is giving up on.”
Rather than being weary or wary, Dempsey said, the United States is “rebalancing our efforts to build partners, to enable others and to do certain things ourselves — but that should be our last resort.”
“For the most part,” he added, “we ought to address these challenges collaterally and collaboratively with partners.”
U.S. forces do face fiscal challenges, the chairman said, but he doesn’t see that affecting the gulf region.
“We are going through a period of retraction in our budget, but it’s a matter of history,” he explained. “We go through this about every 20 years, and the United States still has the military capability to do many more than one thing at a time.”
The United States doesn’t face a choice to be either in the Atlantic or the Pacific, in Europe or the Middle East, or in Asia or Africa, Dempsey added.
“We have global responsibilities. We have global partnerships,” the chairman said. “One of the greatest strengths of the United States is its alliances, its partnerships, unlike some others who aspire to be great powers, but they don’t have friends, they don’t have partners. They try to go it alone. We, on the other hand, see our strength through our partners.”
On Iran, the chairman stated that although a diplomatic solution to the problems caused by the pursuit of nuclear weapons is infinitely preferable to a military operation, the military option remains available.
The United States maintains a “credible and capable amount of military force in the region so that if the diplomatic track fails, it is available to my leaders.”
While we rarely write about the Cold War and all the issues going on with Russia these days, here's something I bet you haven't heard. The much-vaunted 1987 INF treaty, negotiated by the sainted Reagan....may be in abeyance
WASHINGTON — Congress is stepping up pressure on the White House to confront Russia over allegations that it is cheating on a key nuclear arms treaty — a faceoff that could further strain U.S.-Moscow relations and dampen President Barack Obama's hopes to add deeper cuts in nuclear arsenals to his legacy.
Butting heads with Russian President Vladimir Putin over compliance with a 26-year-old treaty to eliminate an entire class of nuclear weapons is not something that fits into Obama's "reset" in improving relations with Russia, which already was stalled by Russia granting asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden and annexing Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. But the issue has been simmering for a few years and Republicans on Capitol Hill want Obama to address it head-on.
It's unclear why the administration, which has raised the issue with Russia through diplomatic channels, doesn't want to publicly blow the whistle on Moscow's alleged violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed in 1987. The treaty banned all U.S. and Russian land-based ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 300 miles and 3,400 miles (480 and 5,470 kilometers).
There are several theories: The U.S. doesn't want Russia to pull out of the treaty altogether, which would be embarrassing for a president who, shortly after taking office, declared his vision of a world without nuclear weapons.
Obama has won Senate ratification of the New START treaty, the most significant arms control pact in nearly two decades. The treaty, which took effect in February 2011, requires the U.S. and Russia to reduce the number of their strategic nuclear weapons to no more than 1,550 by February 2018.
Then last June, Obama announced in Berlin that he wants to cut the number of U.S. nuclear arms by another third, which would shrink the total to between 1,000 and 1,100 weapons for bombers and land- and sea-based missiles. He said he intends to "seek negotiated cuts" with Russia — something that Congress would be unlikely to approve if Russia is found in violation of the 1987 INF treaty.
It's an awkward time for Washington to be pointing a finger at Russia over nukes.
Besides the issues over Snowden and Ukraine, Washington needs Russia's help in ending the Syrian civil war and sealing a deal that constrains Iran's nuclear activities in exchange for lifting economic sanctions on Tehran.
The Russians say they have looked into allegations that it tested a new ground-launched cruise missile in violation of the treaty and sees the matter as closed.
Finally today, let me be a speechwriter for the President. It won't take long.
"My Fellow Americans, it disturbs me greatly that the only people in America who are happy Bowe Bergdahl is home are me and his family. Those who would question bringing home a POW are in my opinion, no better than our enemies, and their recent rhetoric is almost seditious. I want you all to remember on election day that I worked to bring him home alive, while our Republican friends would have preferred to leave him to die just to make a political point. Thank you, and God Bless America."
But he'll never say that.