Today is our 3,824th 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: 1,915
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,022
We find this morning's cost of war
passing through:$ 1, 316, 092, 375, 000 .00
We'll get right into the political aspect of the war today. Like last time around, candidates are trying to make war a political issue. But it's far more cloudy than the last time around when there was a pretty clear division between the candidates.
I suppose it's yet another instance of the GOP tin ear
on most issues that really matter.
WASHINGTON — As Afghanistan seizes more of the political spotlight, the Republican presidential candidates are quick to criticize President Obama’s handling of the war but struggle to explain how they would change the strategy they would inherit.
GOP front-runner Mitt Romney says Obama has exhibited “failed leadership” and should not have set a timetable for ending the war. But Romney won’t say whether he would scrap the president’s plans to bring the war to a close by the end of 2014. Rivals Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have questioned whether the U.S. should be in Afghanistan at all, but neither has plans for withdrawing tens of thousands of American troops.
The Republican reluctance to outline specific policy positions is evidence of the complex nature of managing the decade-long war as public support dwindles, and concerns that detailed campaign promises could pigeonhole a candidate if he goes on to win the White House.
It’s a role reversal for the parties from 2008, when a Republican president was mired in a long and unpopular war and Democratic candidates, including Obama, tried to convince voters that they should take the reins.
But the political calculus for the current crop of Republicans is more complicated than it was for Obama in 2008. Obama opposed the Iraq war from the start and his election-year promise to bring it to an end put him in lockstep with the rest of his party.
This year’s GOP candidates, however, find their party’s hawkish tendencies butting up against the public’s growing impatience with the Afghan war.
Six in 10 Americans see the war as not worth its costs, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released this month. Opposition to the war is bipartisan, and for the first time, the Post-ABC poll showed more Republicans “strongly” see the war as not worth fighting than say the opposite.
Yet many in the GOP have agreed with some of Obama’s aggressiveness in Afghanistan, from increasing U.S. troop levels to ordering the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the attacks that drew the U.S. into the war in the first place.
Defense analyst Michael O’Hanlon said those actions have made it harder for Republican to come up with a distinctive and specific alternative war strategy.
“I think it reflects that this is not an issue that is so simple that reflexively turning to a Republican line of attack is going to be the answer,” said O’Hanlon, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank.
But if the Republicans would have us stay in Afghanistan forever (like they wanted us in Iraq), there's more to consider than campaign rhetoric. Like Iraq, our small, all-volunteer force is bearing an undue burden of war. The recent massacre in Afghanistan will only be the tip of the iceberg...as repeated, multiple deployments is something our military has little experience with.
After nearly 11 years of war and hundreds of millions of dollars in research on the mental health of troops, the military is no closer to understanding how many deployments are too many for individual soldiers, researchers say.
Military leaders have said the nation has never fought wars this long with this small of a military, deploying troops over and over. Yet questions remain about how many times a soldier can recycle into combat without psychological harm.
“I think it’s definitely disappointing that we don’t know. I wish we did,” says retired Navy captain William Nash, a psychiatrist studying resiliency in Marine battalions.
The issue of multiple deployments was one of many raised following the March 11 massacre of 16 civilians in Afghanistan. The suspect, Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, 38, was on his fourth deployment when the shootings occurred.
Many of the issues reported about Bales — repeated combat exposure, physical injuries and personal finance and career problems — are common stresses on troops, scientists say. Yet 107,000 servicemembers have deployed three or more times without incident.
“The question we don’t have answered is how do we get precision about picking out the people who are really going to be in trouble,” says Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth, director of the Military Family Research Institute at Purdue University.
Scores of studies have looked at the wars’ effects on behavior and mental health. But the work has been done “in piecemeal fashion,” offering a snapshot analysis of a group of servicemembers, says Terri Tanielian, a senior research analyst at RAND Corp.
The Pentagon may have missed a chance to follow large numbers of combat troops through the war in what is called a longitudinal study to better understand how behavioral problems develop, say Tanielian, Wadsworth and Nash.
Finally this morning, we'll visit the economy. While recovery may have slowed recently, the fact remains that it is still a recovery, no matter how slow and painful. But it remains slower and more painful for returning vets. I've got one of those stories where it's going to be difficult to extract enough relevance for the blog, but you owe it to yourself to read the entire thing.
Tyson Akers joined the Marines straight out of high school and spent more than eight years in the infantry, including four tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
When he left the military in February 2011 because he wanted more time at home with his young children, he knew any civilian job would be different than what he’d done in the Marines.
“Your job was to go out and be on the front line and pray to God nothing happened to you,” he said. “It’s hard to translate that over to the civilian world.”
But Akers, 29, didn’t count on a job search that has lasted more than a year, leaving him demoralized and even questioning his decision to leave the Marines.
“You start thinking to yourself if it’s even possible to get a job once you’re out,” he said.
While older veterans generally have a relatively low jobless rate, the unemployment rate for veterans who have served in the post-9/11 era averaged more than 12 percent last year, compared with under 9 percent for the general population, according to government data out last week.
The problem of veteran unemployment is widely recognized. President Barack Obama has referred to it frequently and just last month pledged to get more veterans back to work.
"They've already risked their lives defending America,” he said. “They should have the opportunity to rebuild America."
With the U.S. making plans to withdraw from Afghanistan and possibly shrink the military, thousands more young veterans like Akers are likely to be looking for work in the coming months and years.
Yet there are plenty of roadblocks preventing veterans from getting civilian jobs, including a lack of job-seeking skills and a mismatch between military experience and civilian requirements.