Today is our 3,789th 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: 1,897
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 995
We find this morning's cost of war
passing through: $ 1, 304, 522, 100, 000 .00
Let's dive right in...we'll start this morning on the home front. Even though the economy is showing signs of improvement, and most of the indicators are now headed in the right direction, there's still a subset of the population that the recovery is leaving behind...veterans. Especially returning National Guard and Reserve troops. I almost hate to say it, but war seemed to be a steady job.
The unemployment rate for young combat veterans — especially National Guard and reserve members — could reach 50 percent in the next two years, warns a veterans employment expert.
Ted Daywalt, president and chief executive officer of VetJobs.com, said the unemployment rate for veterans age 18 to 24 is 31 percent, far greater than the 7.7 percent jobless rate for veterans of all ages, and likely to get worse because young veterans face hurdles in a weak economy.
“The high unemployment rate is a direct result of their participation in the National Guard and reserve, and the current call-up policy,” he said. “Due to the constant activation of the National Guard, upwards of 65 percent of employers will not now hire as a new employee anyone who is an active member of the National Guard.”
People separating completely from the military “are for the most part finding employment,” although it can be a long process, Daywalt said. But if a veteran remains active in the National Guard, they are having “a difficult time finding meaningful employment.”
Most employers, he said, “are risk averse.”
Reserve members also face problems finding work, he said, but perhaps to a slightly lesser degree than guard members because employers are not concerned about reserve members being mobilized for local emergencies.
Things could get worse for younger guardsmen, he said, if the active-duty military makes large personnel cuts because those veterans have a better shot at finding jobs.
But unemployment isn't the only thing waiting for returning vets. We've been at war for ten years; the longest sustained period of violence in more than a generation. Repeated deployments have taken their toll, and for some returning troops, violence has become a way of life. Unfortunately, certain crimes are on the rise among returning soldiers.
After more than ten years at war, soldiers in the US military are more prone to sexual violence, domestic abuse (including spousal and child abuse), and suicide, according to a report released by the Pentagon on Thursday.
Violent sex crimes committed by active U.S. Army soldiers have almost doubled over the past five years, due in part to the trauma of war, according to an Army report released on Thursday.
Reported violent sex crimes increased by 90 percent over the five-year period from 2006 to 2011. There were 2,811 violent felonies in 2011, nearly half of which were violent felony sex crimes. Most were committed in the United States.
One violent sex crime was committed by a soldier every six hours and 40 minutes in 2011, the Army said, serving as the main driver for an overall increase in violent felony crimes.
The report acknowledges that post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) and other scars from long or repeated deployments are clearly contributed factors to the resulting violence, as the Reuters' report indicates:
Soldiers suffering from issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury, and depression have been shown to have higher incidences of partner abuse, according to the report.
Soldiers with PTSD are up to three times more likely to be aggressive with their female partners than those without such trauma, the report said.
The report also said that family abuse cases are typically underreported.
As the largest branch of the U.S. armed forces, the Army has done the bulk of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, including years of extended duty and repeated deployments.
Stars & Stripes, the magazine for the US Armed Services, suggests that even as the wars wind down, the rate of violence at home likely may not:
Though troops have left Iraq and an Afghanistan withdrawal is planned, the health and psychological problems will continue, and in some cases could even increase as veterans enter the civilian world, Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli said. The Army will stay on top of them, he promised
Finally this morning...we'll visit Afghanistan. We did a lot of things in Iraq, and as it turns out, perhaps our lasting legacy there will be the overbearing and ostentatious largest embassy in the world.
In any case, as we move along towards an eventual drawdown and leaving of Afghanistan, our troops are busily engaging in all sorts of nation building activities. Unfortunately, it seems that we'll be building a nation of massive prisons.
Despite claims to hand over control of the main U.S. detention center in Afghanistan to the Afghans, the U.S. military is instead investing millions to double the size of the facility.
Spencer Ackerman writes in Danger Room this morning:
There once was a plan to turn over the main U.S. detention center in Afghanistan to control of the Afghans in 2011. That’s out the window. Instead, the military is offering millions to vastly expand the center’s inmate intake.
Specifically, $35 million will fund expansions necessary to house “approximately 2,000 detainees” at the Detention Facility at Parwan on the outskirts of Bagram Air Field, an hour’s drive from Kabul. The Army Corps of Engineers wants to expand “detainee housing, guard towers, administrative facility and Vehicle/Personnel Access Control Gates, security surveillance and restricted access systems,” according to a recent solicitation. A Turkey-based company received the contract in late January.
And Parwan isn’t the only detention center on the grow: the U.S. is spending up to $100 million building jails across Afghanistan.
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As Nick Turse noted last week, the "drawdown" in Afghanistan has been anything but:
Despite all the talk of drawdowns and withdrawals, there has been a years-long building boom in Afghanistan that shows little sign of abating. In early 2010, the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) had nearly 400 bases in Afghanistan. Today, Lieutenant Lauren Rago of ISAF public affairs tells TomDispatch, the number tops 450.
The hush-hush, high-tech, super-secure facility at the massive air base in Kandahar is just one of many building projects the U.S. military currently has planned or underway in Afghanistan. While some U.S. bases are indeed closing up shop or being transferred to the Afghan government, and there’s talk of combat operations slowing or ending next year, as well as a withdrawal of American combat forces from Afghanistan by 2014, the U.S. military is still preparing for a much longer haul at mega-bases like Kandahar and Bagram airfields. The same is true even of some smaller camps, forward operating bases (FOBs), and combat outposts (COPs) scattered through the country’s backlands. “Bagram is going through a significant transition during the next year to two years,” Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Gerdes of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Bagram Office recently told Freedom Builder, a Corps of Engineers publication. “We’re transitioning... into a long-term, five-year, 10-year vision for the base.”
Alas...it seems that Senator McCain may have been right; whether intentional or not, we're setting things up to be there for another ten years or more. Many have tangled with Afghanistan and lost...among them the British Empire at the height of their powers, and the Soviets. We know what happened then. The question remains; will the United States be the next to fall?