...or you never really leave?
Because that's how it feels sometimes. It seems that every single newsworthy development there, or new report on some angle of it, or anecdote from those still fighting the fight, captures my attention like nothing else. It's all mandatory reading, even if I'm not operating in any capacity to do anything with the information -- both new and old. Here is the big news dominating the past few days...well, not exactly dominating, since Afghan news only does when an aircraft crash occurs.
The 66 U.S. service members killed this month eclipses the previous record of 65 killed in July 2010, according to an Associated Press tally. Nearly half the August deaths occurred when insurgents shot down a Chinook helicopter Aug. 6, killing 30 American troops, mostly elite Navy SEALs.
I remember well the almost breathless reporting just over a year ago when that month took the "record" (what a macabre use of the word). It's an obviously misleading number anyway if it's being used to mark success or failure, which it usually is, due to the number killed in that fateful Chinook. What the story could mention is that American casualties are still actually down from this point in 2010, despite the aggressive operations against the insurgency in Helmand, Kandahar and other restive provinces.
Kudos to the AP, on the other hand, for including a mention of other casualties in the NATO-led coalition...something that usually goes unreported in U.S. media.
Besides the 66 Americans killed so far this month, the NATO coalition suffered the loss of 14 other troops: two British, four French, one New Zealander, one Australian, one Polish and five others whose nationalities have not yet been disclosed.
This month America's deadliest in long Afghan war
Calcium Ammonium Nitrate Fertilizer, used in an IED
Another story which caught my attention centers on ammonium nitrate, a serious and significant issue...which therefore tends to garner few stories. It was a major focus of the Afghan-Pakistani-Coalition meeting I attended late last year, and which take place regularly. I recall much talk about what is being done and what should be done, which I suppose is how these affairs tend to go...but from the sound of it, that's all it was...talk. In the meantime, the material is used constantly in deadly bombs.
Such bombs, typically buried and detonated remotely or by pressure plates, have killed more than 719 Americans and wounded more than 7,440 since the conflict began in 2001, along with thousands of Afghan troops and civilians. Last year's U.S. death toll — 252 — was as high as the two previous years combined, and 2011 is shaping up to be just as bloody.
Speaking of that particular tripartite meeting, my former colleague Gen. Azimi is quoted, voicing again the frustration that Afghan officials feel over the issue.
On Aug. 17, authorities in Afghanistan's Helmand province said they seized 200 sacks of ammonium nitrate that had been smuggled from Pakistan. Photos of the sacks, which had been partially buried, showed they were made by Pakarab.
"All of this chemical is coming from the south and the east," said Mohammad Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry. "We want Pakistan to control it."
AP IMPACT: Pakistani fertilizer fuels Afghan bombs
If all of this news on the human cost isn't depressing enough, there is the other cost to consider. The Commission on Wartime Contracting released its much-anticipated report on waste and fraud throughout the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. While I suspect it was more prevalent in Iraq due to its scope, I have pointed out before that one never has to look very far to see money being burned...
Panel tallies massive waste and fraud in wartime U.S. contracts
Joint Sustainment Academy Southwest, Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, Aug. 23
(photo courtesy of NTM-A)
Alright, so it looks as if I lack an optimistic view this evening (aka late night)...but it's hard to locate optimism from this distance. Fortunately there is, as always, progress in the training mission. This is the effort on which it all hinges, according to our leadership -- the professionalization of Afghanistan's security forces. If anyone can do it, it's our many trainers: Air Force personnel working with the fledgling Afghan force at airbases, US Soldiers conducting joint patrols in Kandahar, German police officers relentlessly training recruits in the north, Marines imparting tactics to special new police response units in Helmand province, to name a few...
Marines and the ANP – Special Tactics Mission Training
I'm willing to bet that some of the Jarheads conducting that training are activated Reservists, as are many of the individual Marines who augment our joint commands in Afghanistan, Iraq, North Africa and elsewhere. That came to mind as our component, Marine Forces Reserve, was designated 95 years ago this week, in time to immediately boost its numbers to help turn the tide of World War I in France. The size has fluctuated ever since, but it remains vital to the Corps and to the nation's needs.
Although it's a very productive charity, and great visibility for the Marine Reserve, we do a heck of a lot more than take charge of Toys for Tots each holiday season. Never more was this proven than during World War II, as this stunning statistic demonstrates...
Of the nearly 600,000 Marines called to serve [in WWII], approximately 70% were reserves. And of the 82 Marine Medals of Honor bestowed during the war, 44 went to reservists.
From the annals of USMC history came this series of facts about Reserve involvement in the Korean War, in which their rapid mobilization made an enormous impact...
In 1950, the Korean War saw the Marine Corps expand from 75,000 regulars to a peak strength of 261,000 Marines, most of whom were reservists. Complete mobilization of the organized ground Reserve had been accomplished in just 53 days, from July 20 to Sept. 11, 1950. Of the Marines participating in the Inchon invasion, 17 percent were reservists. By June 1951, the proportion of reservists in Marine Corps units in Korea had increased to nearly 50 percent, and during the war, 48 percent of all 1st Marine Aircraft Wing combat sorties were flown by Marine reservists. Between July 1950 and June 1953, about 122,000 reservists, both recruits and veterans, saw active duty with the Marine Corps.
Marine Forces Reserve Celebrates 95th Birthday
Happy birthday to all of my brethren and citizen-warriors, both now and those who've gone before. Semper Fi!