Today is our 4,286th 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: 2,241
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,098
We find this morning's cost of war
passing through: $ 1, 452, 481, 900, 000 .00
We'll head back to Iraq this morning. Since we've left, the media (and indeed, even us here at AAV) have rarely looked in the rear-view mirror at the entire sorry affair. But if you've been paying attention, then you know that sectarian violence continues, and dozens of people are still getting killed every week. In addition to our casualty figures, Antiwar.com also keeps a running total
of the goings on back in Baghdad. Check the original for additional links and more details.
Although no soccer players or fans were reported among today’s casualties, one of the bombings targeted a cafe. In recent days, several cafes screening international soccer matches were the focus of bloodshed. Overall, at least 55 people were killed and 53 more were wounded today.
A suicide bomber killed 23 people and wounded 28 more at a funeral in Muqdadiya.
In Baquba, a suicide bomber attacked a cafe, where he killed 10 people and wounded 22 more. A civilian was shot dead at a market.
The bodies of eight Sahwa members were found in an orchard after the men were snatched from various homes around Meshahda.
A roadside bomb in Hamdaniya killed a soldier and wounded two more.
Gunmen killed a policeman in Falluja.
In Qayara, gunmen killed a Hadhir councilman and his cousin, while a third person was wounded. A sticky bomb killed an employee of the oil ministry.
Two leading al-Qaeda members were killed during a raid in Adhaim.
In Baiji, a policeman was gunned down.
A military operation in Duquq left an Ansar al-Sunna leader and a soldier dead.
A civilian was gunned down in Mosul.
But even as Iraq seems to be backsliding into chaos, perhaps we've learned from that and are starting to take steps to prevent the same thing from happening in Afghanistan when we leave. The date is creeping ever closer, and as it does, Afghanis are taking on more responsibilities for governing themselves. There has been an effect; the US has listed the fewest casualties in five years.
KABUL, Afghanistan — The shift to Afghan security forces leading in combat and the ongoing reduction of U.S. troops here drove American combat deaths to their lowest number in five years for the first half of 2013.
“Afghan National Security Forces are primarily the units in contact with enemy forces, rather than ISAF personnel,” Lt. Tamarac Dyer, a spokeswoman for the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) wrote in an emailed response to questions about casualties.
In the first six months of the year, 72 Americans were killed in combat in Afghanistan, according to iCasualties.org., a website that tracks military deaths. The last year when the number of dead was for the comparable period was 2008. Then, 66 Americans died from January through June, and 155 were killed in the full year. The worst year for U.S. troops was 2010, when 499 Americans died. Fatalities have totaled more than 2,200 since the war began in 2001.
The nearly 12-year-old war has had time to develop patterns, and the number of deaths in the second half of any given year have often been higher. This year, , though, insurgents will have fewer targets: U.S. troops are expected to accelerate their withdrawal after the summer, and the current force of about 68,000 troops is scheduled to be cut in half by the end of December.
With Afghans in the lead, U.S. forces’ exposure to danger also has been sharply reduced. Increasingly, U.S. troops and their NATO allies are working on large, heavily secured bases, training and mentoring Afghan security forces, rather than patrolling the countryside.
The U.S.-led international coalition has been trimming its forces in advance of the full pullout of combat troops by the end of 2014. Military advisers are expected to stay, but their number has not yet been determined.
But of course, leaving isn't easy. It is a military operation too, and requires just as much forethought and planning as an invasion. In the tiniest of comparisons, think of it like going on a trip. I just went to Nantucket with the Boy Scouts, and getting there took a number of weeks of planning by the troop leadership, the logistics of organizing the troop and all our gear to get there, and of course, all our personal gear too. But when we left....throw all my stuff in my pack, jam everything back into the troop kit, and we'll sort it all out when we get home. Withdrawing from combat on the scale of Afghanistan requires a little more effort.
FORWARD OPERATING BASE JOYCE, Afghanistan – This is what leaving looks like. This base in southern Kunar province is overrun with a mad crush of soldiers and equipment preparing to hit the long road home.
During the troop surge that began in 2010, FOB Joyce housed double the number of soldiers that have been based here in recent months. Now, as neighboring outposts have been shuttered or handed over to Afghan forces, the base is once again experiencing a surge of people and machines.
Beginning in late May, the base’s population exploded from 300 to more than 600 soldiers as four smaller com-bat outposts shut down in one month. Two companies were joined by three more, and the base’s five Security Force Assistance Teams doubled to 10.
The facility handled a similar number of soldiers during the surge ordered by President Barack Obama in 2009 involving 33,000 reinforcements that officially ended with their withdrawal in September. While there were enough buildings to house the incoming units, base officials said it took a significant effort to make them habitable again.
The units will continue to operate from Joyce until the beginning of July, when they will begin to move to larger bases on their way back to the United States. The base is scheduled to be turned over to the Afghan National Army just weeks later, said Capt. Timothy Walton, a company commander with the 1st Combat Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, and the officer in charge of preparations for the Americans’ departure.
U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook helicopters make nightly visits to the base to airlift equipment under the cover of darkness. Shipping containers too heavy to be slung under helicopters are packed into armed convoys that leave on a daily basis. About 400 to 500 containers have been moved out, and many more will come, Walton said.
“On top of all that, we are not only keeping up the advisory mission, but we are also preparing the base for the ANA,” he said. “It can be a challenge to balance the operational requirements with moving out.”
For the average soldier living and working at Joyce, the constant packing and shipping are only a few of the changes.
By late June, the base had yet to shift to serving prepackaged Meals, Ready to Eat, but lunches were restricted to sandwiches, soup and salad. Some food items often ran out.
Since May, soldiers have been tasked to take over almost all jobs that had been done by contractors, including kitchen, dining and laundry duties, as well as responsibility for running the recreation hall and Internet cafe.
In addition to the new responsibilities, the hundreds of extra people on base often mean long lines at the dining hall and generators that struggle to keep up with the additional needs.
Units take turns as food servers and laundry attendants, but more specialized jobs are often difficult to fill, Walton said. The base’s 68 generators need nearly constant attention in the scorching summer heat, but when it comes to fielding enough trained mechanics to maintain them, “we often fall short,” he said.
All the changes and close quarters have made some troops even more excited to leave when the 1st Brigade Combat Team rotates home this summer.
Staff Sgt. George Rodriguez, a member of an advisory team, said FOB Joyce is housing more soldiers than it can handle.
“All the little things may seem petty, but it adds up and you can really start getting cabin fever,” he said.
In general, Walton said, the base’s occupants have stepped into their new roles with few problems.
“There have certainly been growing pains, but I don’t think they mind when they understand the purpose of all of this,” he said.
With Independence Day in the offing, we should pause this week to ponder what our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines continue to do on a daily basis on our behalf. Perhaps we might not agree with the politics behind it all, but out there in the foxholes that matters little. "Coming Home" is no longer an abstract concept, but indeed at long last it's something tangible on the horizon.