Today is our 3,782nd 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: 1,893
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 991
We find this morning's cost of war
passing through: 1, 302, 204, 875, 000 .00
There's some new information about an old issue this week. We'll start in Iraq, and a re-visit to the "burn pit" issue. An awful lot of trash and other junk was simply incinerated in Iraq, nearly all of it in open pits. Of course, US Military personnel had to stand around and monitor the fires. Breathing in all that stuff was not good.
Army Reserve wife Rosie Torres, 38, stood in line Jan. 19 at a Texas Health and Human Services office to apply for assistance with her mortgage, bills and groceries.
Mounting debt related to her husband’s medical bills has pushed the couple into arrears; between insurance deductibles, house payments and overages, they owe more than $55,000.
LeRoy Torres, 39, a Reserve captain and former Texas state trooper, was assigned to Joint Base Balad, Iraq, in 2008 and believes exposure to the camp’s open-air burn pits left him with debilitating respiratory problems. He can’t walk long distances, perform daily tasks or even roughhouse with his kids.
But although he can’t work full time, between his drill pay and Rosie’s part-time pay, they make too much to qualify for a grant.
“My husband actually said that with our insurance, we’d be better off if he’s not around,” Rosie Torres said. “I don’t want to hear that. That’s not what our family needs.”
The Torreses are among the many National Guard, reserve and active-duty families awaiting military medical evaluations and possible retirement or separation.
They also are part of a smaller cadre that has incurred massive medical bills resulting from illnesses they say are tied to pollutants — namely burn pits or fine particulate matter in desert dust — they inhaled while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As non-activated reservists, they often cobble together health care, relying on the Veterans Affairs Department, their work insurance and savings accounts to pay for care.
Quite often, that means going into debt.
“I never thought we’d be in this situation,” said Maria Baca, whose husband, New Mexico Air National Guard Master Sgt. Jessey Baca, still has a civilian job but has outstanding bills totaling $57,000.
About 26,000 troops are in the military disability evaluation process at any given time, according to an Army report released in January. The waiting time for a decision on the 18,000 soldiers in the process is between 373 to 400 days, the report states.
There doesn't seem to be an easy answer on this one, but clearly the VA needs to be able to respond quicker than the over a year average quoted in the story.
Swinging through Afghanistan now, it looks like 2011 was a tough year for civilians.
War doesn't care who gets in the way.
More than 3,000 civilians were killed in Afghanistan during 2011, the deadliest year on record for residents of the war-torn country, according to a UN report.
A total of 3,021 civilians died last year, up eight per cent from 2,790, the UN mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said on Saturday in its annual report. The toll marked the fifth year in a row that the number of civilian deaths had increased.
Roadside bombs and increasingly deadly suicide attacks targeting civilians killed more people than any other type of attack, it said.
"Afghan children, women and men continue to be killed in this war in ever-increasing numbers," Jan Kubis, the UN special representative to Afghanistan, said on Saturday.
"For much too long Afghan civilians have paid the highest price of war. Parties to the conflict must greatly increase their efforts to protect civilians to prevent yet another increase in civilian deaths and injuries in 2012."
Single largest killer
In a statement accompanying the report, UNAMA said "the tactics of choice of anti-government elements subjected Afghan civilians to death and injury with increasingly lethal results in 2011".
"Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were the single largest killer of Afghan children, women and men in 2011," it added.
Bombs, including roadside mines detonated by people stepping on them or vehicles driving over them, accounted for 967 deaths, UNAMA said, the biggest single killer of civilians.
Al Jazeera's Jennifer Glasse, reporting from Kabul, the Afghan capital, said the UN attributes 77 per cent of the civilian casualties to what it calls "anti-government forces".
"It says the big problems there are improvised explosive devices that are set off by vehicles or people stepping on pressure plates," she said.
"Also suicide bombings in very crowded places - [those] are the main attributes for the jump in the number of civilian deaths."
NATO air attacks
The report said forces fighting the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and its allies in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) killed 2,332 civilians in 2011, 14 per cent more than in 2010.
Security forces battling anti-government fighters killed 410 civilians, down four per cent from the previous year, it said.
Most deaths attributed to NATO forces were a result of attacks from the air.
The UN mission urged the 130,000-strong NATO force to review its tactics aimed at preventing civilian loss of life in all military operations - "in particular aerial attacks".
It also called for stronger efforts to prevent civilian casualties in the night raids, which have been widely condemned, including by Karzai.
A total of 11,864 civilians have died in the conflict in Afghanistan since 2007, the report said.
Finally making it to the home front this morning, it seems like the Department of Defense has had a change of heart regarding parades for returning vets. But of course, there's a caveat; they want to wait until ALL the troops are "off the battlefield"
, meaning Afghanistan too.
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon fully supports the idea of a parade for returning war veterans down the Canyon of Heroes in New York City.
Just not right now.
Instead, administration officials on Monday announced plans for a lavish gala at the White House later this month to honor “the achievements and enormous sacrifices of the brave Americans who served in the Iraq War.”
Doug Wilson, Pentagon public affairs chief, said that military leaders support the idea of eventually holding a nationwide celebration for troops and their families.
“We’re looking forward to a national parade for the troops at an appropriate time, when combat troops are off the battlefield in Afghanistan,” he said.
Defense leaders have hinted in the past that such an event could pose security risks to New York and troops overseas, but backed away from those statements this week.
Col. Dave Lapan, spokesman for the Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, said that a ticker-tape parade “wouldn’t harm our efforts in Afghanistan, but we feel it would be inappropriate at this time given ongoing deployments and combat operations there.”
Wilson said the White House dinner — featuring troops from every service, every state and every rank — will be a unique opportunity to draw attention to Iraq veterans and thank them for their work.
That sentiment has irritated leaders at the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which has been pushing for a bigger, bolder recognition to mark the end of the controversial nine-year-war. They say a White House dinner will only include a few dozen returning heroes, and won’t really help the public engage with veterans.
“The country wants to come out and thank these veterans,” said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of IAVA. “We’ve already seen one celebration in St. Louis, and we’re hearing from other communities who want to do more. Rather than have a scattering of parades here and there, we think it should be a coordinated effort.”
The St. Louis parade, organized on a small budget by a pair of friends over Facebook, featured fewer than 1,000 veterans but crowds of cheering civilians numbering in the tens of thousands.
One senior Pentagon official praised the event as the right size and scope for what military leaders feel comfortable with right now.
“More St. Louis-type events are fine,” the official said, “but we’d hope the national celebration would be held until all combat troops are off the battlefield.”
Seems to me that the easiest solution would be to get everyone home...right now that parade isn't happening until 2015.