And still you do not care about Afghanistan.
I know what you mean. Even typing the word is a chore; the peak of the A descending into the mire of FGH before shaking itself off and plodding off across the trackless wastes of ANISTAN.
In our nation of three proud letters and an attention shortfall that makes such so, merely invoking the name of the country in which we are fighting our longest war is an unrewarding effort.
However, if you could be troubled to examine some of the thousands of documents introduced recently into the public domain by the shadowy operatives of the website WikiLeaks, you would come to realize that there is a great deal of effort being undertaken in Afghanistan, not all of it useful.
Entitled simply Afghan War Diary 2004-2010, the collection of messages from the battlefield meticulously depicts one nation’s attempt to subjugate another in all its prosaic splendor. The diary begins Jan. 1, 2004, as a coalition unit encounters the enemy, whereupon small arms fire ensues and three enemies are killed. It ends Dec. 1, 2009, with a dismounted patrol discovering and subsequently detonating an improvised explosive device, with no loss of life on either side. In between, the diary recounts almost 16,000 other IED attacks, various encounters involving drones or hit squads, incidents of friendly fire and unfriendly alike, and altogether too many troubling accounts of civilians in the wrong place at the wrong time.
This is no beach read. The data is raw, and by that we mean that you need a guide and glossary to translate the jargon of the field. “ISAF #10-497 E CO 2/7 USMC CONDUCTING A RESUPPLY CONVOY TO PB WISHTON WERE ENGAGED BY INS WITH SAF AND RPG FIRE” means the Marines heading to Patrol Base Wishton were attacked by insurgents with small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades, but only if you know how to decipher the acronyms. WikiLeaks has made it possible to search the entries by incident type, category, region, affiliate or date, not to mention severity, but it is slow going in any breakdown.
You high school seniors would be well-advised to start your research now if you expect to be ready to defend it for your master’s dissertation.
Is the AWD, as many pundits have howled, a 21st century equivalent of The Pentagon Papers, a 1971 data dump engineered by disgruntled think tank analyst Daniel Ellsberg? Maybe not so much. Where Ellsberg’s documents revealed miscalculations at the strategic level of the White House and, well, the Pentagon, the Diary exists solely at the level of the soldier in combat. Moreover, the Papers were revelatory, piercing a veil of secrecy drawn about the entire Southeastern Asia war effort. The AWD tells us nothing we did not already understand, be it the duplicity of the ruling Afghan National Party or the complicity of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. Waistdeep in the Big Sandy almost nine years, with no mission to cheer and no heroes in sight, most Americans have become acclimated to the stasis of a quagmire.
Things might be different if this war were to resolve its nominal impetus, a quest for the murderer of thousands on September 11, 2001, but that villain left Afghanistan long ago and no less a source than the CIA has indicated there may be no more than 100 of al-Qaeda’s henchmen in all of that land. Meanwhile, during July another 66 brave American military personnel have died in Operation Enduring Freedom, on behalf of a population interested only in enduring.
Some people call PFC Brad Manning a brave soldier. Currently, he sits in solitary confinement at a brig in Quantico, Virginia, suspected of being the latter-day Ellsberg, but charged, as of press time, only with leaking diplomatic cables and also a video showing an air strike killing civilians in Baghdad.
That video, circulated by WikiLeaks under the title “Collateral Murder”, is evidentiary footage shot by an Apache helicopter during an incident in 2007. As the bird of prey circles endlessly in the Baghdad sky, a rain of death falls upon a party of apparently unarmed civilians. When others arrive in a van to pick up a wounded man, later revealed to be a photographer working for the Reuters agency, the airborne gunners add them to the body count. Two children were in the vehicle.
One of the Apache personnel is overheard telling another that it’s the adults’ fault “for bringing their kids to a battle.”
American combat personnel are leaving Iraq this month, according to President Obama, “as promised and on schedule,” so maybe the days of atrocities such as those depicted in the video are over. There’ll still be 50,000 troops on the ground there, though, so anything’s possible.
Meanwhile in Afghanistan, the troop count will have tripled since Jan. 20, 2009, and why? “If Afghanistan were to be engulfed by an even wider insurgency, Al-Qaeda and its terrorist affiliates would have even more space to plan their next attacks,” Mr. Obama told a Disabled American Veterans conclave Monday. The resolute I, the supplicatory F. On two little letters the Top Kick stakes the lives of 96,000 men and women halfway around the world.
“The President…is fighting the war the terrorists want us to fight. Bin Laden and his allies know they cannot defeat us on the field of battle or in a genuine battle of ideas. But they can provoke the reaction we’ve seen in Iraq: a misguided invasion of a Muslim country that sparks new insurgencies, ties down our military, busts our budgets, increases the pool of terrorist recruits, alienates America, gives democracy a bad name, and prompts the American people to question our engagement in the world.”
Know who said that? Candidate Barack Obama, in 2007. It’d sure be swell if he could speak that kind of truth to the current occupant of the White House.
Courtney Haden is a Birmingham Weekly columnist. Write to email@example.com.