Today is our 4,769th day in Afghanistan, and our 131st day back in Iraq.
We'll start this morning as we always do; with the latest casualty figures from our ongoing wars, courtesy of Antiwar.com:
US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 2,349
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,127
We find this morning's Cost of War
passing through: $ 1, 576, 050, 550, 000 .00
I didn't mention him in the header today, but there is another casualty in our return to Iraq. Unlike the unfortunate Marine that was lost at sea some weeks back, this one was in-country
. Whether he is the first of many, or an exception, remains to be seen.
The Pentagon on Friday reported the first death of a U.S. military serviceman in Iraq in its new mission to combat Islamic State militants who have seized large areas of Iraq and Syria.
Marine Lance Cpl. Sean Neal, a 19-year-old from California, died in Baghdad on Thursday in what a Pentagon statement described as a noncombat incident. Further details about how Neal died were not immediately available.
Earlier this month, a Marine was deemed lost at sea after he fell from an aircraft into the Arabian Gulf.
The Pentagon said Neal’s death was the first U.S. casualty in Iraq since the Obama administration began its “Inherent Resolve” mission, which now includes airstrikes against the extremist group in Iraq and Syria and a growing number of U.S. military personnel on the ground in Iraq in August.
The Marine’s death is a milestone for the Obama administration, which withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011 and has sought to ensure the United States is not drawn into more of the costly, messy ground wars that characterized the decade after the 9/11 attacks.
More than 4,000 U.S. military service members died in Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
Staying with Iraq, there's a rather lengthy article I've run across that seems to be setting us up for what they're calling "Iraq War IV"
. It almost seems impossible to believe, but there's enough evidence to suggest that we're doomed to repeat the past...again.
The United States is now at war in Iraq for the third time in my lifetime, and after being in the middle of the first two I'm planning to sit this one out.
The first Iraq war was necessary and conducted well, as wars go; the second was unnecessary and conducted poorly at first, but ended up in a reasonable place given what a fiasco it had been at the start. This third war was entirely preventable, caused by a premature departure of U.S. troops after the second. Although it's too soon to say how it will turn out, it is not too early to say that unless we get the endgame right, the United States will fight yet another war in Iraq before too long.
My first Iraq war was Operation Desert Storm, when half a million U.S. troops joined an international coalition to expel Saddam Hussein's army from Kuwait in 1991. Although that war appeared to settle some things at the time, within months of the cease-fire it became clear that Saddam had survived the thrashing we had given his army and was not going to fall to indigenous rebel forces as we had hoped. Instead, we began a decade of containment called Operation Southern Watch, with American war planes flying combat missions around the clock to deter Saddam from further adventurism.
Southern Watch continued until March 2003, when the tempo of combat operations increased sharply during the second Iraq war. Operation Iraqi Freedom began in an air of national panic after al Qaeda's attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the unrelated but frightening anthrax attacks on the U.S. capital. Saddam was working to develop weapons of mass destruction, we were told, and the United States did not want to discover that he had completed them only after seeing a mushroom cloud over Washington or New York. Throwing aside generations of deterrence theory -- which predicts correctly that states will not deploy weapons of mass destruction against another state that possesses them for fear of reprisal -- we invaded Iraq again, this time unnecessarily.
Not just unnecessarily, but also poorly. Iraq was three nations inside a single state, held together by a brutal dictatorship. Although there were prewar warnings that hundreds of thousands of troops would be required to police Iraq after the government collapsed, we invaded with a fraction of that number. We had no plan to create a new order in postwar Iraq or even to secure the weapons-storage depots that were the supposed reason we were invading. Decisions made in the immediate aftermath of the invasion to disband the Iraqi Army and forbid any former members of the ruling Baath Party from again holding positions of influence poured fuel on the embers of a Sunni insurgency that burst into flames. Rather than coming home by Christmas, the invasion force called for reinforcements, including my tank battalion.
We arrived in Anbar province in September 2003, right in the heart of the insurgency, and immediately discovered that our prewar training to fight other armies would be of little help. We were fighting insurgents who, in Mao's clever phrase, were fish swimming among the sea of the people -- Sunnis who hated us and their new Shiite overlords in Baghdad, whom they saw as collaborators with the occupiers.
It got worse. We had been told that Saddam was collaborating with al Qaeda, which was not true, but in the power vacuum that followed his demise, radical Islamists found a toehold. They named themselves al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and increased the sophistication of the weapons they deployed against U.S. troops. Simple improvised explosive devices made of the artillery rounds that literally littered the desert were replaced by sophisticated AQI car bombs like the one that destroyed the Khalidiya police station one Sunday morning, killing 34 Iraqi police officers we had trained and equipped. When my tank battalion left Anbar after a year of fighting, we made coffee cups that said "Iraq 2003-2004: We Were Winning When I Left."
We will finish up today by taking a swing through Iraq. We're still heading for a final withdrawal, but even as we do so, the fighting continues
. It's hard to imagine this ending any better than Iraq did, but only time will tell.
FORWARD OPERATING BASE SHANK, Afghanistan — American paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division have spent the last seven months closing down bases in eastern Afghanistan.
At every base, the Taliban have been eager to send them out with a bang. Literally.
Soldiers of Company C, 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment are members of the last American battalion conducting full-spectrum combat operations in Afghanistan as the U.S. military prepares to pull its combat troops out of the country by the end of the year. Throughout the deployment, they’ve come face to face with an increasingly bold Taliban that threaten both departing Americans and the Afghan forces they leave behind.
“Fundamentally — as in Iraq — the U.S. is leaving behind an extremely fragile situation, which will be vulnerable to Taliban inroads in precisely the same places that were hard-fought when the U.S. troops were present,” said Sarah Chayes, a South Asia expert and senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.
Such vulnerability first became evident in the southern province of Helmand last year. The longtime Taliban stronghold, which produces most of the nation’s opium, saw a dramatic increase of Taliban activity after international forces began leaving near the start of this year’s spring fighting season.
It’s a common tactic of the insurgents.
“The Taliban want to appear to be driving the U.S. out,” said Anthony Cordesman, a strategy expert with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. “They’re playing to local tribes, and if local tribes can attack the U.S. as it withdraws ... it strengthens the Taliban image but it gives a broader picture that the government is weak and that they can’t hold the territory. It sets the precedent for [next year’s fighting] campaign.”
Eastern Afghanistan presents its own challenges, with various Taliban-affiliated groups massing in the hundreds to attack the Afghan military.
“It’s a more confusing [mixture] of insurgent groups,” said Graeme Smith, a senior analyst with International Crisis Group in Kabul. “Every week, I feel like we hear a name of some different insurgent group that’s supposedly popping up or operating there.”
The fragmentation, coupled with increased influence and support from sections of the insurgency next door in Pakistan, complicates Afghan government efforts to reach a political solution to the Taliban influence, Smith said.
The Taliban have continuously insisted that all U.S. and NATO forces — whom they regard as foreign occupiers — must leave the country before they consider participating in the political process. The insurgents have vowed to continue fighting if any foreign advisers remain in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of coalition combat troops.
And so we go...another week at war.