Thursday, June 30, 2005

That other war


Afghanistan produces news stories on a daily basis, but they usually don't carry the same weight as what's going on in Iraq. Why? Well, total US casualties in Afghanistan, after nearly four years, are about 1/7th of those in Iraq over a little more than two years ... 234 as of yesterday.

That number -- and public notice that there's still a war on in that country -- took a big leap today when the US military confirmed the deaths of 16 Americans in the downing of a Chinook transport helicopter.

Why the lower casualty figures? Well, there are also about 1/7th as many US troops in Afghanistan as in Iraq, and they've never been tasked with actually taking over the country (there's a NATO force for that, which is apparently about as useful as teats on a boar). They rousted out the Taliban, installed a new "government," and then went into a holding pattern (al Qaeda having already packed its important trash and moved out of the neighborhood while said rousting occurred). Afghanistan remains a patchwork of feudal warlord fiefdoms. The Taliban never really controlled the place, either ... but to the extent they did, they still substantially do, outside the confines of the government district in Kabul and the perimeter of the US air base at Bagram.

The newspapers talk about a "resurgent rebellion," but that doesn't seem to be what's going on. The Taliban continues to take leisurely swats at those who've allied themselves with Washington's proxy government -- kidnapping an aid worker here, assassinating an official there, overrunning a district capital over yonder, what have you ... but it's not a rebellion. It's business as usual, with the Taliban a bit annoyed -- but not overly incovenienced -- by the fact that former US petroleum industry consultant Mohammed Karzai is sitting in what they consider their chair.

The Taliban knows better than to attempt large-scale assaults on the US troop presence -- it's a slaughter every time they sound the bugle. And the US military knows that digging the Taliban's troops out of their mountain redoubts would be a very, very bloody task.

So, it's a waiting game, with attendant effusion of blood. Three guesses which side can probably wait longer.

Until the US invasion in 2001, no foreign invader had conquered Afghanistan since Alexander the Great. Since the US invasion in 2001 ... no foreign invader has conquered Afghanistan since Alexander the Great. The proper approach would have been for the US to concentrate on crushing al Qaeda and getting the hell out -- but the White House wasn't particularly interested in either objective.

An American soldier who dies in Afghanistan is just as dead as an American soldier who dies in Iraq. His family misses him just as much. His nation's loss is just as grievous. And the person responsible for his needless death lives at the same address -- 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

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