Today is our 3,817th 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: 1,913
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,007
We find this morning's cost of war
passing through: $ 1, 313, 775, 850, 000 .00
It's been a tough few days on the Veteran's front. I hope you had the chance to catch Mr. Rieckhoff as he made the talk-show circuit this past weekend. In any case, that's not the only incident that's happened. You may have missed it with all the headlines, but a similar incident (albeit on a far smaller scale) took place in San Jose, California.
A 27-year-old Iraq War veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder killed his 11-year-old sister, before fatally turning a gun on himself, according to Gilroy police, who also feared he may have also killed or seriously wounded their mother.
"It's horrible," said Gilroy police Sgt. Chad Gallacinao. "We have no idea where the mom is."
Gilroy police said they rushed to the Redwood Apartments complex on Kern Avenue on Wednesday night after a report that something there might be wrong. When officers arrived, they found the 11-year-old girl -- Lucero -- dead, with a bullet in her head. They also found the body of her older brother, Abel Gutierrez, who had served with the U.S. Army in Iraq. Police said he may have shot their mother, Martha Gutierrez, 52, before turning the gun on himself.
In the weeks leading up to the violence, neighbors and relatives at the complex reported that Abel Gutierrez was known there for his often troubling, frightening and aberrant behavior toward family and strangers. However, on an emergency call to the family residence Feb. 29, police determined the young military veteran did not seem dangerous.
On Thursday, in Gilroy, a police spokesman said, "There was forensic evidence at the scene to suggest that Martha Gutierrez is critically injured or deceased," as they continued searching for her late into the night. Police indicated that at least two firearms were used in the murder-suicide but would not
disclose whether Gutierrez left a note.
Details of Gutierrez's personal experiences in the Middle East were skimpy, but his post-war path indicated some potholes of emotional damage.
A Veterans Affairs spokeswoman in Palo Alto said Gutierrez received treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder in Puget Sound, Wash. PTSD is an extreme form of anxiety that often makes it difficult for soldiers who have experienced combat to resume normal lives. VA officials in Puget Sound could not be reached for comment.
Relatives and neighbors at the apartment complex described the former soldier as openly troubled. They said he often used profanity at people, threatened them and generally seemed on the edge of some kind of violent outburst.
Faustino Gutierrez, 46, Martha Gutierrez's brother, said the young veteran would sit on the sofa twirling a handgun and also brandished a rifle inside the family's apartment.
"He said he killed a lot of people in Iraq," said Faustino Gutierrez. "It was in his conscience, and he didn't want to live anymore."
He also said that the younger Gutierrez called him from Puget Sound and threatened to kill him.
Abel Gutierrez's niece, Kristell Gutierrez, said he would say he wanted to kill himself "all the time," and would ask family members if that would hurt them.
A neighbor living in an apartment below the family did not allow his daughter, a close friend of Lucero's, to visit the Gutierrez apartment.
"I told her it's better you no longer play inside there," he said. "Things would be quiet then he would cuss for no reason. ... He would pace back and forth in the parking lot ... with just this look on his face that he was lost."
While I leave you to ponder that, we'll circle back to Iraq for a minute. Yesterday was the 9th anniversary of the start of that ill-advised conflict, and while we may have gone from that theater of war, enemies of peace still remain.
If Iraqis were hoping that the withdrawal of U.S. forces last year would finally mean the end of war, al Qaeda and its Sunni militant allies are determined to prove otherwise.
Daily bombings and shootings remain an endemic feature of life. In the past three months, al Qaeda-linked fighters have been blamed for attacks that have killed at least 250 people.
In a particularly poignant reminder of militants' potency this week, gunmen in unauthorized uniforms of special commandos drove from checkpoint to checkpoint in the western town of Haditha before dawn, gunning down police. They killed 27 including two officers dragged from their homes and slain in the street.
A return to the all-out sectarian slaughter that killed tens of thousands of Iraqis in 2006-07 is unlikely. Nor are al Qaeda fighters threatening to again impose their rule over whole swathes of Iraq as they did in the early years after the U.S. invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
But unlike Shi'ite militia groups - which have largely declared they are ready to lay down arms now that U.S. troops have left - al Qaeda and other Sunni groups have shown no sign of giving up the fight. And Iraq's security forces show little sign of the wherewithal to vanquish them once and for all.
Al Qaeda will continue to be a menace until security forces have better intelligence, are more technologically sophisticated and can gain the public's trust in those pockets where the militants still have support.
In the absence of American troops to oppose, al Qaeda and its allies in Iraq have hewed to explicitly sectarian rhetoric, calling on all Sunnis to join them in battle against the Shi'ite-led government in Baghdad.
"Know that the coming stage is a stage of real confrontation and war against the despicable (Shi'ites), whether you like it or not," the al Qaeda-affiliated Sunni group Islamic State of Iraq said after claiming responsibility for attacks on Iraqi security forces that killed 60 people on February 23.
Ibrahim al-Shimari, spokesman for the Islamic Army, another militant group, said it would keep fighting as long as "the effects" of the former U.S. occupation still exist.
"We are continuing to defend the Iraqi people and this weapon is the guarantee of the security of the Iraqi people."
Iraqi authorities insist they have the situation under control. Deputy Interior Minister Adnan al-Asadi says attacks have fallen by more than 80 percent compared to past years, with the remaining violence a sign of terrorist groups trying to "prove they are still on the scene".
"After the tightening that happened against al Qaeda and other groups and the heavy blows they received, the detentions of many leaders and members that contributed to cells breaking up, ... sanctuaries and sources of finance are much more restricted," Asadi told Reuters. "That has led these groups to, from time to time, prepare an attack to signify their identity."
Iraq's branch of al Qaeda is only loosely linked to the wider organization founded by Osama bin-Laden, but shares its strong anti-Western ideology and its aim of restoring the strict Sunni Muslim caliphate that ruled the mediaeval Arab world.
In the early years after the fall of Saddam, al Qaeda fighters took control of cities and towns in Sunni-dominated western and central Iraq, resisting the U.S. presence and imposing a stark interpretation of Islamic law.
They also fought Shi'ites, who make up the majority in Iraq but are denounced by al Qaeda as apostates from true Islam.
Eventually al Qaeda's extreme violence and rigid rule alienated Sunni tribes, who teamed up with U.S. troops to drive them out, first from their stronghold in Anbar province and then from other areas. Since 2008 the fighters have no longer controlled significant territory.
Having fought to drive the militants out, Iraqi villages and towns are unlikely to welcome al Qaeda back, Asadi said.
"Al Qaeda will not return to take over any province, including Anbar, because the people of Anbar have tasted the bitterness of al Qaeda," Asadi said.
America has a short attention span; we always have. With Afghanistan in increasing turmoil, and Iraq holding on by its fingernails, it would seem that history is going to be a harsh judge of our efforts. One can only hope that we continue to pay attention, but given our history, it would seem unlikely.