Recently, Taliban insurgents overran an Afghan National Army base killing 21 soldiers as they slept. It was said to be the worst single blow to government forces since 2010. Corruption remains rampant in Afghanistan, fueled by the inflow of American aid. NPR’s Morning Edition today laid out more of Hamid Karzai’s despicably deceptive behavior. Today’s New York Times tells of the warlords who are working to control the outcomes in April’s Afghan presidential election. Some of the warlords operate their own private militias. Politics in Afghanistan continue to be a function of tribalism – Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek or Hazara – and has been ever so.
Against this backdrop comes the February 19 Congressional Research Service Guide to U.S. Military Casualty Statistics: Operation New Dawn, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Operation Iraqi Freedom was the combat mission. Operation New Dawn was the post-combat transitional period, which still left several thousand American military personnel in Iraq. Operating Enduring Freedom is the Afghanistan mission.
According to the report, 4476 U.S. service members died in Iraq in the last 13 years; 2299, in Afghanistan. Add in the 16 defense department civilian deaths, as that means that since George Bush launched the Iraq War and Barack Obama continued the engagement in Afghanistan, 6791 G.I.’s have lost their lives. These are real people, not an abstraction. They represent nearly 6800 families coping with loss, forever changed.
The deaths, of course, don’t even take into account the 51,809 wounded in action. Of those, 1558 suffered major limb amputations, losing wholly or partially one or more leg, arm, hand, or foot. 342 committed suicide. The Defense Department records a staggering 287,911 traumatic brain injuries suffered in the period the two wars spanned. Another 118,829 were treated for post traumatic stress disorder, though the Congressional Research Service notes “PTSD could have resulted from an event that occurred prior to a deployment.” Yeh, right.
The point is that all these numbers, alone or in the aggregate, are a horrific cost to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Secretary of State John Kerry, fresh from service in the Vietnam War, asked in April 1971 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, ” How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” It was wrong then. It is wrong today.
The farther we move from the 20th century’s “good wars” the more complex and muddled have become the definitions of what is in our national interest. The confusion has not let up in the (post-Nobel-Peace-Prize-winning) Obama years. The price tag of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is said to be between $4 trillion and $6 trillion. Many who pushed us into these wars did so without regard for costs, exit strategies or realities on the ground and now want to gut other programs to pay for their errors. But the real costs of this failure, as measured by human losses, could make your heart break.
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