Today is our 2,554th day in Iraq and our 3,082nd day in Afghanistan.
We'll start this morning as we always do, with the latest casualty figures from America's ongoing wars...
Since war began (3/19/03): 4384
Since "Mission Accomplished" (5/1/03): 4245
Since Capture of Saddam (12/13/03): 3921
Since Handover (6/29/04): 3525
Since Obama Inauguration (1/20/09): 156
Other Coalition Troops - Iraq: 318
US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,020
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 665
Contractor Employee Deaths - Iraq: 1,457
Journalists - Iraq: 338
Academics Killed - Iraq: 437
We find this morning's cost of war
passing through: $ 971, 825, 000, 000 .00
We'll start this morning with WWII. A few days back, Raine posted a blog about International Women's Day.
It made for a opportunity for Congress to recognize
a little-known group of WWII aviators, the WASPs, or "Women's Auxiliary Service Pilots".
During the war, these women undertook flight training, and were handed the controls of America's top weapons of war. They flew these aircraft around the United States from the factories to the bases, and ferried them overseas to war where our male pilots would then take them into combat.
After the war, they all went back to civilian life, and their role in the war was virtually forgotten and unrecognized.
WASHINGTON - They flew planes during World War II but weren't considered "real" military pilots. No flags were draped over their coffins when they died on duty. And when their service ended, they had to pay their own bus fare home.
These aviators — all women — got long-overdue recognition on Wednesday. They received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor given by Congress, in a ceremony on Capitol Hill.
About 200 women who served as Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs, were on hand to receive the award. Now mostly in their late 80s and early 90s, some came in wheelchairs, many sported dark blue uniforms, and one, June Bent of Westboro, Mass., clutched a framed photograph of a comrade who had died.
As a military band played "The Star-Spangled Banner," one of the women who had been sitting in a wheelchair stood up and saluted through the entire song as a relative gently supported her back.
"Women Airforce Service Pilots, we are all your daughters; you taught us how to fly," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to serve as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. She said the pilots went unrecognized for too long, even though their service blazed a trail for other women in the U.S. military.
In accepting the award, WASP pilot Deanie Parrish, 88, of Waco, Texas, said the women had volunteered without expectation of thanks. Their mission was to fly noncombat missions to free up male pilots to fly overseas.
"We did it because our country needed us," Parrish said.
WASP Ty Hughes Killen, 85, of Lancaster, Calif., put it more simply: "We're a bunch of tough old ladies," she said in an interview.
Thirty-eight WASPS were killed in service in World War II. But they were long considered civilians, not members of the military, and thus were not entitled to the pay and benefits given to men.
They were only afforded veteran status in 1977 after a long fight. It's estimated that about 300 of the more than 1,000 WASPs are still alive.
A day earlier, the women participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the U.S. Air Force Memorial with the knowledge that it may be one of the last times so many of them could gather. Killen said it was the "gals who are watching from upstairs" she's been thinking of.
"I really don't care for publicity but what I really do care about is the 900 or more that are already dead and gone and have not had the cognizance and recognition that I feel they should have for their families," Killen said.
I was fortunate that in the early 1990s, one of these pilots was based at my local Hanscom Field; her pink-painted Curtiss P-40 was a regular on the airshow circuit and could ocassionally be seen in the sky locally as she turned money into smoke and noise.
Turning now to Afghanistan, there's a couple of disturbing stories that have come out in recent days. We all know what happened in Iraq when a couple of "bad seeds" ran rogue at Abu Ghraib....could it be happening again?
DELARAM, Afghanistan - Home to a dozen truck stops and a few hundred family farms bounded by miles of foreboding desert, this hamlet in southwestern Afghanistan is far from a strategic priority for senior officers at the international military headquarters in Kabul. One calls Delaram, a day's drive from the nearest city, "the end of the Earth." Another deems the area "unrelated to our core mission" of defeating the Taliban by protecting Afghans in their cities and towns.
U.S. Marine commanders have a different view of the dusty, desolate landscape that surrounds Delaram. They see controlling this corner of remote Nimruz province as essential to promoting economic development and defending the more populated parts of southern Afghanistan.
The Marines are constructing a vast base on the outskirts of town that will have two airstrips, an advanced combat hospital, a post office, a large convenience store and rows of housing trailers stretching as far as the eye can see. By this summer, more than 3,000 Marines — one-tenth of the additional troops authorized by President Obama in December — will be based here.
With Obama's July 2011 deadline to begin reducing U.S. forces looming over the horizon, the Marines have opted to wage the war in their own way.
"If we're going to succeed here, we have to experiment and take risks," said Brig. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson, the top Marine commander in Afghanistan. "Just doing what everyone else is doing isn't going to cut it."
Creative, and unorthodox
The Marines are pushing into previously ignored Taliban enclaves. They have set up a first-of-its-kind school to train police officers. They have brought in a Muslim chaplain to pray with local mullahs and deployed teams of female Marines to reach out to Afghan women.
The Marine approach — creative, aggressive and, at times, unorthodox — has won many admirers within the military. The Marine emphasis on patrolling by foot and interacting with the population, which has helped to turn former insurgent strongholds along the Helmand River valley into reasonably stable communities with thriving bazaars and functioning schools, is hailed as a model of how U.S. forces should implement counterinsurgency strategy.
But the Marines' methods, and their insistence that they be given a degree of autonomy not afforded to U.S. Army units, also have riled many up the chain of command in Kabul and Washington, prompting some to refer to their area of operations in the south as "Marineistan." They regard the expansion in Delaram and beyond as contrary to the population-centric approach embraced by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, and they are seeking to impose more control over the Marines.
The U.S. ambassador in Kabul, Karl W. Eikenberry, recently noted that the international security force in Afghanistan feels as if it comprises 42 nations instead of 41 because the Marines act so independently from other U.S. forces.
"We have better operational coherence with virtually all of our NATO allies than we have with the U.S. Marine Corps," said a senior Obama administration official involved in Afghanistan policy.
Lastly this morning....what does the word "Hessian"
mean to you? In some parts of these United States, that's still a bad thing to be. (New England and the Mid-Atlantic states, primarily.) During the revolution, the King hired regiments of German soldiers to come and help put down the rebellion. In essence, they were the Blackwater of their day. These are the guys Washington beat up at Trenton; in some circles they were more hated and feared than the Lobsterbacks. There's a still-breaking story out of Afghanistan this week that the Defense Department was channelling money to 'private contractors' in Afghanistan to hunt down and kill militants. As if Blackwater in Iraq wasn't enough....are we Hessians now?
(Reuters) - The Pentagon said on Monday it was looking into "serious allegations" about a U.S. Defense Department official accused of setting up a unit of private contractors in Afghanistan and Pakistan to help track and kill suspected militants.
But the Pentagon declined to confirm any of the allegations detailed in a New York Times report or say whether a formal investigation was underway.
The newspaper reported Michael D. Furlong, a retired Air Force officer, may have channeled money away from a program meant to provide U.S. commanders with details of Afghanistan's social and tribal landscape and toward secret efforts to hunt militants on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
"That story makes some serious allegations and raises numerous questions that warrant further review by the (defense) department," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.
The U.S. military acknowledged Furlong was a civilian employee at U.S. Strategic Command's Texas-based Joint Information Operations Warfare Center.
According to its website, the center "uses information as a tool to change attitudes or perception." Furlong's title was strategic planner and technology integration advisor, said a spokesman for Strategic Command, which oversees Furlong's work.
The Times reported Furlong hired contractors from private security companies that employed former CIA and Special Forces operatives.
The contractors gathered intelligence on the whereabouts of suspected militants and the location of insurgent camps, with that material sent to military units and intelligence officials for possible lethal action in Afghanistan and Pakistan, unnamed officials told the paper.
The Times said the story was based on interviews with U.S. military and intelligence officials and businessmen in the region. The sources requested anonymity, it said, because the case is under investigation.
The Times said Furlong's operation appeared to have been shut down and the Defense Department investigation was looking at possible criminal offenses, including fraud.
U.S. Strategic Command declined to comment on any probe, saying: "We do not acknowledge whether someone is or is not under investigation." It also said Furlong would not be available for media interviews.
'PRETENDING TO BE JAMES BOND'
Some U.S. officials interviewed by the Times said they became troubled that Furlong seemed to be running an off-the-books spy operation.
"While no legitimate intelligence operations got screwed up, it's generally a bad idea to have freelancers running around a war zone pretending to be James Bond," one U.S. government official told the paper.
Officials told the Times they were not sure who condoned Furlong's project.
Contractor and author Robert Young Pelton told the Times the U.S. government hired him to gather information about Afghanistan but that Furlong improperly used his work.
"We were providing information so they could better understand the situation in Afghanistan, and it was being used to kill people," Pelton was quoted as saying.
Some officials told the Times it was unclear whether Furlong's program resulted in the deaths of militants but others involved in the operation said it did.
So...my apologies for a lengthy blog this morning. But the stories need to be heard.