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Between the Lines

May 26, 2004

The other war. Remember it?

It's been a month since the former Arizona Cardinal star Pat Tillman, who left behind a lucrative NFL contract to become an Army Ranger, was killed in Afghanistan. Yet, very little is known about his mission. The Army has declined to comment.

"In that way, Tillman's death is very much like the deaths of other American servicemen in Afghanistan," writes Malcolm Garcia of Knight Ridder. "At least 122 U.S. servicemen have died, including 53 killed in action, since the start of Operation Enduring Freedom in late 2001 to topple the Taliban regime for harboring al-Qaida terrorists.

"While U.S. combat in Iraq often takes place in front of television cameras in places that have become almost household names - Fallujah, Najaf and Baghdad - fighting in Afghanistan takes place in small skirmishes far from the public eye. Reporters assigned to Afghanistan rarely accompany the units most likely to engage in combat, and little is said about what took place in any particular skirmish.

"More than two years after U.S. troops entered Afghanistan, the U.S. military, citing 'security' concerns, refuses to say how many American soldiers participate in combat operations or how many 'forward operating bases,' from which U.S. patrols are launched, are now in the country."

This little war, which was triggered directly by the refusal of the Taliban government to surrender Osama bin Laden and his blood-stained gang, has almost totally faded from the public eye. Beset by increasing casualties in Iraq and the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, the Bush administration no doubt plans to keep the lid on as tightly as it can in Afghanistan. That's understandable from a politically pragmatic point of view; they've got an election to try to win. The rest of us, however, need to remember that we've still got more than 13,000 troops in Afghanistan and that, like our men and women in Iraq, they are living in danger daily as they continue to search for Bin Laden and struggle to help with public works projects in the areas where they're stationed.

In this New Yorker piece published in April, Seymour Hersh, reports that we're a long way from achieving stability in Afghanistan, too.

" … the Taliban are still a force in many parts of Afghanistan, and the country continues to provide safe haven for members of Al Qaeda. American troops, more than ten thousand of whom remain, are heavily deployed in the mountainous areas near Pakistan, still hunting for Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader," Hersh writes. "Hamid Karzai, the U.S.-backed President, exercises little political control outside Kabul and is struggling to undercut the authority of local warlords, who effectively control the provinces. Heroin production is soaring, and, outside of Kabul and a few other cities, people are terrorized by violence and crime. A new report by the United Nations Development Program, made public on the eve of last week’s international conference, in Berlin, on aid to Afghanistan, stated that the nation is in danger of once again becoming a 'terrorist breeding ground' unless there is a significant increase in development aid."

So we can expect our troops to be there for a long while yet, working in obscurity in a harsh landscape and culture, toward ends that seem to have largely left the public consciousness.

Posted by tbrown at 02:54 PM




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