Today is our 4,104th 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: 2,173
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,079
We find this morning's cost of war
passing through: $ 1, 408, 823, 525, 000 .00
War doesn't stop, even on New Year's day.
There is a wee bit of good news from the fronts....apparently we're still slowly but surely withdrawing troops. Another round is scheduled to start in about two months.
KABUL: The next phase of transferring security from Nato to Afghan control will begin in two months and aims to cover nearly 90 per cent of the country’s population, the Kabul government announced Monday.
The transition, which began in early 2011, is slated to give Afghan forces full responsibility for security by the end of 2014, when most Nato troops will have withdrawn.
Misgivings persist about the readiness of Afghan forces, although their numbers have grown rapidly over the past year to more than 330,000. They now shoulder most combat operations, while Nato forces, including some 66,000 US, troops are preparing to pull out.
The US intends to keep a residual force in Afghanistan past 2014 but the size has yet to be determined.
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a statement said the forthcoming fourth phase was ”another sign of steady progress.”
”Going forward, our efforts in Afghanistan will continue to ensure that the Afghan people can secure and government themselves, and to deny safe haven to al Qaeda,” the statement said.
Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who heads a transition commission, told a news conference that Afghan security forces now are responsible for protecting 75 per cent of the population.
”The general assessment is that security is better or the same,” Ahmadzai said, referring to changes over the third transition phase, which began in May and ended Monday. He said that by the end of the fourth phase, the duration of which is open-ended, 87 per cent of the people will be protected by Afghan forces.
Targeted for the upcoming transition are 12 provinces mostly in the north and central regions as well as a district in the southern province of Helmand, the most violent in the country.
And with all the goings on on the Fiscal Cliff deal last night, a couple of bills relevant to veterans
also managed to slip through. Looks like Congruss can only do things with a Sword of Damocles hanging overhead....
UPDATE: The House passed H.R. 4057 with a vote of 392 to 3. You can view the roll call vote here. House also passed S. 3202 with a vote of 393 to 0. You can see the roll call for the vote on S. 3202 here. Both bills now head to President Obama's desk for his signature.
Last night, the Senate passed two important pieces of veterans legislation; H.R. 4057, the Improving Transparency of Educational Opportunities for Veterans Act of 2012, and S. 3202, a package of legislation that allows vets and their spouses to retake the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) that provides critical employment and transition services to veterans, and establishes a burn pit registry. The House (which has already passed versions of these bills) is up next for a final vote before the end of the year. Although this has been a difficult year to pass any legislation out of Congress, both bills are expected to be passed and sent to the President before the end of 2012.
H.R. 4057 will help vets and their families use their GI Bill more smartly and efficiently by providing access to clear information about student outcomes and the schools that they want to attend. Valuable information such as graduation and default rates will help student veterans determine what programs are worth their hard-earned GI Bill dollars. H.R. 4057 also prohibits schools from engaging in predatory recruiting practices, such as paying recruiters commissions or bonuses for each student they enroll. IAVA believes that H.R. 4057 goes a long way toward the goal of empowering student veterans and their families to make the right choices that will lead to educational achievement, success and a bright future.
S. 3202, the Dignified Burial of Veterans Act of 2012, contains amendments dealing with a variety of issues including establishing a burn pit registry and a pilot program to allow veterans and their spouses to re-take the Transition Assistance Program (TAP). These are items that IAVA has fought for all year and are important steps for Congress to take to help veterans deal with future health care concerns as well as finding more immediate employment
Finally this morning....we'll take a brief look back at Iraq.
Has anything really changed? But even as I half-jokingly forgave Harry Frazee recently and swore I would bear no grudge into the future....Kin and Clans and Revenge are what much of Middle-Eastern society revolves around. We were there a decade, but they've been bearing the same grudges for a thousand years.
Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) -- When the first U.S. military convoy rolled into 8-year-old Saad Kareem's middle class neighborhood in Baghdad nearly a decade ago, he was scared, even as others around him whistled and danced.
Saad's family is Shiite, and the U.S. invasion brought hope for political and religious freedoms they'd missed under Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime.
"I was with my mother at the time, holding my mother's hand very tight. I was so scared because I thought that they were coming to kill us," recalled Saad, now 17. "But when I saw my mother smiling, I relaxed."
The safety Saad felt in that moment proved elusive: First there was war, then sectarian strife that pitted Sunni extremists against Shiite militants and brought Iraq to the brink of civil war.
Then came the official end of the war. On December 31, 2011, the country celebrated "Iraq Day" and the departure of U.S. troops. As Iraq prepares to mark the anniversary, also known as the "Day of Sovereignty," last year's celebratory tone has been replaced by a more somber one.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's political bloc, the Islamic Dawa Party, called on Iraqis not to become divided along sectarian or ethnic lines by "malicious schemes." The country has struggled to define itself, as its government stumbles from one political crisis to another.
Just as the last U.S. troops withdrew, al-Maliki, a Shiite, moved to arrest Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni, who al-Maliki accused of using his security detail as a hit squad.
More recently, a few days before the first Iraq Day anniversary, thousands of Sunnis took to the streets in Anbar province, a major trade thoroughfare to Jordan and Syria, to protest al-Maliki's order to arrest the bodyguards of Finance Minister Rafaie Esawi, a Sunni. The arrest of Esawi's bodyguards came just hours after President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd who is widely viewed as a stabilizing political force in Iraq, left the country to undergo treatment for cancer in Germany.
Iraq's Arab Sunnis and Kurds have accused al-Maliki and his Shiite political party of working to consolidate power in Iraq by cutting them out of the political process, an allegation that comes as U.S. lawmakers raise concerns about Iraq strengthening its ties with Shiite-dominated Iran.
One year after U.S. troops left, much about a post-war Iraq remains unclear -- for the Iraqis recovering from war, and still facing bombs and battles; for Americans re-adjusting to life in the United States and wondering whether their work was worthwhile.
This time last year, there was cautious optimism among Saad's family members. It seemed possible the political instability and violence that plagued Iraq might ebb. In its place, Saad's family hoped a safer, more stable Iraq would emerge.
Today, at Saad's all-male high school in central Baghdad, talk routinely centers on the latest bombing or bubbling sectarian tensions -- Sunni versus Shiite, Arab versus Kurd. There are concerns, Saad said, about the possible return of al Qaeda in Iraq, a group of primarily Sunni extremists bent on reigniting sectarianism. The latest political crisis is split along sectarian lines and has raised fears that political strife could translate into violence on the streets.
Even with a dramatic decline in violence in Iraq from the height of the war, bombings and gun battles remain a near-daily occurrence. A car bomb killed Saad's best friend, and he's no longer allowed to walk to school. His father drives him instead.
Saad has vowed after graduating high school, he will leave Iraq. For good.
"Sometimes," Saad said, "I ask myself why God did not create me in another country."
And so as we go about our business today, remember our troops as they go about theirs. Perhaps some will get to come home this year.