Today is our 2,659th day in Iraq and our 3,187th day in Afghanistan.
We'll start this morning as we always do, with the latest casualty figures from our ongoing wars, courtesy of Antiwar.com:
Since war began (3/19/03): 4409
Since "Mission Accomplished" (5/1/03): 4270
Since Capture of Saddam (12/13/03): 3948
Since Handover (6/29/04): 3550
Since Obama Inauguration (1/20/09): 181
Other Coalition Troops - Iraq: 318
US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,139
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 746
Contractor Employee Deaths - Iraq: 1,457
Journalists - Iraq: 338
Academics Killed - Iraq: 437
Our friends at "Cost of War"
seem to be having some server issues as of this writing; I am unable to get to the website for today's running total.
In what I would guess is a first time for "Ask a Vet"...we'll be cleaning out the drawer of the blog mind, an idea I steal shamelessly from Bob Ryan
from time to time.
You were probably watching the McCrystal saga with interest. We all know how things played out in Washington, but What do the soldiers on the ground think?
* “I think it’s a good thing,” said Sgt. Shannon Grier, 24, of Augusta, Ga., who served in Zabul from August to December last year. “He may not have been a bad guy, but he was taking away things that gave infantrymen success, like night missions.”
* “Just because he said what he had to say doesn’t mean he should get fired. I know he’s done a lot for the Army,” said Anthony Malagoli, 22, of Lacey Township, N.J., who expects to deploy to Zabul in the near future.
Since the general was fired and replaced so abrubtly, some of the things he was working on still bear his name. Just days before he was fired, he issued a critical assessment of the war.
Sacked US General Stanley McChrystal issued a devastatingly critical assessment of the war against a "resilient and growing insurgency" just days before being forced out.
Using confidential military documents, copies of which have been seen by the IoS, the "runaway general" briefed defence ministers from Nato and the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) earlier this month, and warned them not to expect any progress in the next six months. During his presentation, he raised serious concerns over levels of security, violence, and corruption within the Afghan administration.
Details of General McChrystal's grim assessment of his own strategy's current effectiveness emerged as the world's most powerful leaders set the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, a five-year deadline to improve security and governance in his country.
The G8 summit in Toronto called for "concrete progress" within five years on improving the justice system and for Afghan forces to assume greater responsibility for security. David Cameron said a "political surge" must now complement the military one.
But the "campaign overview" left behind by General McChrystal after he was sacked by President Barack Obama last week warned that only a fraction of the areas key to long-term success are "secure", governed with "full authority", or enjoying "sustainable growth". He warned of a critical shortage of "essential" military trainers needed to build up Afghan forces – of which only a fraction is classed as "effective".
He pinpointed an "ineffective or discredited" Afghan government and a failure by Pakistan "to curb insurgent support" as "critical risks" to success. "Waning" political support and a "divergence of coalition expectations and campaign timelines" are among the key challenges faced, according to the general.
It was this briefing, according to informed sources, as much as the Rolling Stone article, which convinced Mr Obama to move against the former head of US Special Forces, as costs soar to $7bn a month and the body count rises to record levels, because it undermined the White House political team's aim of pulling some troops out of Afghanistan in time for the US elections in 2012.
Staying with Afghanistan now....the beat goes on. Even as Washington figures out what the next move is, soldiers are on the move. The New York Times has just started what they expect to be a year-long feature, chronicling one battalion's deployment.
I've bookmarked it, and you should, too. We'll be checking in on them from time to time here.
Pvt. Johnnie Stevenson spent his final hours at Fort Drum alone, trying to put his game face on. He played some Ludacris on his iPod, then turned it off. He unpacked his 72-hour bag, then repacked it. Did he have enough toothpaste and spare socks? Had he paid his bills? Was he ready for war? For a year?
A Year at War
Leaving the Family Behind
This article is the first in a series chronicling the yearlong deployment of the First Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, based in Kunduz Province, Afghanistan. The series will chronicle the battalion’s part in the surge in northern Afghanistan and the impact of war on individual soldiers and their families back home.
Capt. Adrian Bonenberger took a drive through the farmland of northern New York to absorb one last view of the St. Lawrence River. To drink one last cup of coffee at the Lyric Bistro in Clayton. To savor one last moment of real peace and quiet before heading to Afghanistan. For a year.
Sgt. Tamara Sullivan pulled out her cellphone charger and braced for a night of tears. She called her children in North Carolina, ages 3 and 1, and told them she would soon be going to work in a place called Afghanistan. For a year. She reminded her husband to send her their artwork. She cried, hung up, called him back and cried some more.
“I asked for him to mail me those pictures, those little sloppy ones,” she said. “I want to see what my children’s hands touched, because I won’t be able to touch them.”
These are the faces of the new American surge in Afghanistan. For the next year, the First Battalion, 87th Infantry of the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, N.Y., will be living, working and fighting in the fertile northern plains of Afghanistan, part of the additional 30,000 troops who will make up the backbone of President Obama’s plan for ending the nine-year war.
Finally this morning, while we hope and pray that the 10th Mountain avoids any casualties during their year overseas, it seems inevitable that some soldiers will return to Dover AFB with full military honors. Some will go back to their hometowns, but others may end up in Arlington. What awaits them there?
Officials at Arlington National Cemetery were aware that discarded tombstones were lining the banks of a small stream on the grounds for more than a decade but left them in the mud, officials said Tuesday.
The headstones were put in place to support the bank, and officials apparently did not want to remove them for fear of damaging the stream, said Dave Foster, an Army spokesman.
An Army investigation released this month found a "dysfunctional" and chaotic management system that led to the mislabeling of more than 200 graves and the dumping of at least four urns in a dirt pile. The cemetery's top two leaders -- Superintendent John C. Metzler Jr. and his deputy, Thurman Higginbotham -- were reprimanded and replaced.
Arlington, home of the Tomb of the Unknowns and the burial site of John F. Kennedy, is a national symbol of sacrifice and a popular tourist destination. News that tombstones had apparently been used for erosion control outraged family members of the deceased and others.
The cemetery's new management team did not know about the headstones in the stream until they were told last week by The Washington Post. They vowed to remove them as soon as possible and dispose of them in accordance with a 1994 policy that dictates that discarded stones be crushed and recycled.
It's certainly been a busy few days. There's even more stuff that I've bookmarked, but I'll save that for another blog.