9 days into 2018...and things are strangely quiet on the veteran's front.
We will continue to look in the rear-view mirror, but today only back as far as January 1. We've already had our first combat death of the year in Afghanistan, but because it was on New Year's Day, it was almost completely unnoticed. We're still at war,
despite what you may have heard.
KABUL, Afghanistan -- The death of a Green Beret in a New Year's Day firefight in Nangarhar province was a grim reminder of continued violence in the deadliest province in the deadliest country where Americans are deployed.
Sgt. 1st Class Mihail Golin, 34, a native of Lativa who joined the Army in 2005 shortly after immigrating to the U.S., was killed while on a foot patrol in Achin district last week, the first U.S. combat death of 2018 and the eighth in Nangarhar in the past nine months.
Since March, U.S. warplanes have conducted hundreds of strikes and U.S. special operations troops have carried out hundreds more tactical operations on the ground in the province.
Nowhere is more dangerous for American troops deployed overseas. Nangarhar is one of the few places Americans have been routinely accompanying Afghan forces into battle. One-third of the 21 U.S. servicemembers killed in combat last year died there, more than in any other single spot where troops were fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Niger.
Combat deaths were far rarer in 2017 than at the height of the wars in Iraq -- in 2007 -- and Afghanistan -- in 2010 -- but the recent uptick in Nangarhar could foreshadow a rise in American bloodshed in the country as the U.S. escalates the fighting in its longest war.
Last year's combat deaths in Nangarhar all followed the intensification of a counterterrorism campaign there that's been putting U.S. troops alongside Afghan units on the front lines of the battle with a resilient Islamic State offshoot known as ISIS-Khorasan, or ISIS-K. The group has taken root there in recent years, where the Taliban also operate, making it a three-sided war.
The U.S.-led NATO mission is poised follow suit elsewhere in Afghanistan by putting more advisers and their force protection troops with conventional Afghan tactical units battling the Taliban insurgency. A new campaign launched in the southern province of Helmand last month has already stepped up the fighting with airstrikes and special operations ground raids against the Taliban-linked drug trade there.
It's all part of the latest shift in the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, which President Donald Trump announced in August, giving U.S. forces here wider leeway to attack Taliban insurgents and has sent several thousand more troops to support Afghan fighting units. There are around 14,000 U.S. troops in the country this year, up from 11,000 through much of 2017.
Thanks to Mondo's friend, we're suddenly reminded that the Winter Olympics aren't that far away. They're in Pyeongchang, South Korea this time, and of course noplace in South Korea is that far away from the North. I've long been of the opinion that if Kim Jong-Un was going to do something, it would be then, but suddenly it doesn't look that way anymore. North and South are actually going to talk about the Olympics
, and there may actually be a northern contingent crossing the DMZ.
Top officials from North and South Korea will hold their first official dialogue in more than two years on Tuesday after months of high tensions over Pyongyang's weapons ambitions.
The long-stalled talks come after the North's leader Kim Jong-Un indicated in his New Year's speech that Pyongyang was willing to send a delegation to the Winter Games in the South.
Seoul responded with an offer of a high-level dialogue, and last week the hotline between the neighbors was restored after being suspended for almost two years.
The talks at Panmunjom, the truce village in the Demilitarized Zone that divides the peninsula, will largely focus on the North's participation in next month's Winter Olympics in the South.
Seoul has been keen to proclaim the event in Pyeongchang, just 80 kilometres south of the DMZ, a "peace Olympics" in the wake of ICBM and nuclear tests by the North -- but it needs the North to attend to make the description meaningful.
If the North agrees, one of the top agenda items will be whether the two Koreas' sportspeople make joint entrances to the opening and closing ceremonies, as they did for Sydney 2000, Athens 2004 and the 2006 Winter Games in Torino.
The size and membership of the North Korean delegation and their accommodation -- widely expected to be paid for by Seoul -- will also be discussed.
The group may stay in a cruise ship in Sokcho, about an hour's drive from the Olympic venue -- which would enable their movements to be closely monitored and controlled.
With only a handful of qualified winter sports athletes, analysts say North Korea is likely to send significant numbers of cheerleaders to the Pyeongchang Games, which run from February 9 to 25.
Hundreds of young, good-looking female North Korean cheerleaders have created a buzz at three previous international sporting events in the South.
"For North Korea to achieve its desired effects and to attract attention, it will have to dispatch its beauty cheering squad," said An Chan-Il, a defector-turned-researcher who heads the World Institute for North Korea Studies.
But of course, Kim and Trump are still spending many hours a day swinging their dicks around, and one of them may yet hit that "button", but only time will tell.
And we'll leave it at that this morning...