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2,000 Deaths Later, Americans Have Put Afghanistan Behind Them

Today, The New York Times makes note that we have now officially passed a new milestone in the nearly eleven year long Afghanistan War with the death of the 2,000th American casualty, accompanying the article itself, which I recommend to everyone, is an interactive infographic detailing the name of every single casualty and the circumstances under which they died. That’s 2,000 Americans over the course of the 3,973 days since American military action first began in the wake of the September 11th attacks. Looking around, it’s hard to see what we’ve accomplished over there. Yes, al Qaeda has been decimated, but that largely occurred within the first several years of the war. Osama bin Laden is dead, but it turned out that he was living in Pakistan this whole time. Indeed, Pakistan has been the location where several top level al Qaeda members have been captured, including the Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. In the meantime, our forces have increased not because we’re fighting against al Qaeda, but because we’re engaged in what seems more and more like a foolish and doomed nation building endeavor.  At this point, the President has set forth a strategy for withdrawal of American troops and the handing over of power to the Afghans, and there don’t seem to be very many people who are objecting to the end of  what has become an exhausting war.

Domestically, the war has pretty much dropped off the radar. Media coverage of events in Afghanistan has been minimal to say the least, and it seems like the only time that Afghanistan makes the news is when there’s a tragedy or a visit by a high ranking American official. The day-to-day events of the war, though, are pretty much off the radar. Additionally, there’s been very little discussion of the war by either of the Presidential candidates, a fact that Investor Business Daily’s Andrew Malcom is the latest to take notice of:

We’ve had 100,000 troops fighting and dying and bleeding in Afghanistan. About 2,000 Americans have perished there since 9/11.

It took 108 months for those U.S. fatalities to reach 1,000. It’s taken only 27 months under Iraq-war opponent Obama to surpass 2,000 deaths.

In the 233 days of 2012 so far, 238 Americans have died.

That includes 33 in the first 21 days of August.

Last month was the deadliest in nearly a year. More than three dozen allied troops, mostly Americans, have died at the hands of alleged Afghan allies recently. How is that possible?

Shouldn’t we maybe be talking about this ongoing war in Afghanistan just a smidge more than whether venture capitalists cause cancer or how really happy Obama is to be wherever he is at the moment? Seriously!

Glenn Reynolds suggests that we’re not talking about the war because there’s a Democrat in the White House, but the truth of the matter is that there wasn’t much “debate”  or news coverage about Afghanistan during the Bush Administration either:

The study started in 2007. In that year, Afghanistan — which was a relatively low-grade conflict at the time, with many fewer allied causalities — accounted for only 1 percent of the nation’s news coverage. The same held true in 2008. The coverage picked up markedly at the end of 2009, when Mr. Obama conducted a lengthy review of Afghanistan strategy, but still added up to only 5 percent for the year.

Four or 5 percent “may be the baseline, at least for now, no matter what the strategic stakes are, or even as U.S. involvement ratchets up,” Mr. Jurkowitz said.

This year, Mr. Jurkowitz estimated, roughly half of the coverage of Afghanistan actually emanated from the war zone. That suggests that “without a major Washington policy debate or strategy review ongoing, that Afghanistan remains a story that gets modest coverage,” he said.

We’ve been ignoring Afghanistan for a long time now, then. Indeed, the only reason that the war came up during the 2008 election was because then Senator Obama cited as the war that American should have been fighting during the Bush years instead diverting our attention with the mission in Iraq. So, it really doesn’t have anything to do with who’s in the office. Instead, as I suggested earlier this month, the main reason that the candidates aren’t talking about Afghanistan is because the public doesn’t want to hear about it:

[I]t strikes me that most Americans don’t really want to hear very much about Afghanistan. For years now, polling has indicated that the public has soured on the war and wants American troops to leave the country as soon as possible. Back in March,support for the war itself hit an all-time low. More importantly, over the past year the President has outlined the plan for a draw down of troops that will have most if not all American troops out of the country by 2014. Most recently, he signed a new agreement with President Karzai that defines the relationship between the United States and Afghanistan going forward, and provides for the Afghans to take over most of the tasks being performed by American and NATO forces today. A month before that, the U.S. handed control of night raids over to Afghan authorities after complaints from civilians and the Afghan government over the practice.

The war is, in other words, winding down.

In some sense, one wonders what there is left to talk about. If President Obama is re-elected his withdrawal plan will most definitely go forward. If Mitt Romney is elected, it strikes me that it will be hard for him to reverse course on the plan Obama has put in place. For one thing, major elements of the withdrawal will already have occurred before he took office, and once troops are gone it’s unlikely that they’ll be coming back. For another, the Afghans are unlikely to agree to give back on the hand over of control issues once we’re a year away from the the 2014 withdrawal date.

The only people who really think that the 2014 withdrawal date is a bad idea are inside the Republican Party, but they’re not going to be the ones making the decisions if Mitt Romney ends up winning election. By that point, the odds that Romney will really be able to reverse course on the President’s policies is pretty low. At the end of the day, we are winding our commitment in Afghanistan down both because it’s the right decision for our country and because that’s what the American people want, indeed what they have wanted for years now.  Given that, and since the American public the American people overwhelmingly supports the President’s draw down plan, what’s left for the candidates to debate? Not much that I can see.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. No one is talking about Afghanistan because we’re in the middle of trying to sneak out of the hotel in the middle of the night before the Afghans notice we’re gone and we don’t want to draw attention to ourselves by bringing it up.

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  2. Me Me Me says:

    Osama bin Laden is dead, but it turned out that he was living in Pakistan this whole time.

    Raid was launched from Afghanistan, and never would have happened otherwise.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    If I close my eyes and click my heels 3 times, will they all wake up in their own beds with those they love all around them and the whole mess just a bad dream? No?

    What were we talking about?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  4. Andy says:

    I guess it’s saying something when we have 100+ comment threads on Chick fil A and only a handful on America’s longest war….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  5. Jib says:

    Repubs dont talk about Afghanistan because many of them spent a lot of time 10 years ago telling us how it did not matter and we really, really, really need to move troops out of Afghanistan and attack Iraq RIGHT NOW. It can not wait!! If they talk about it, it just highlights that Obama is the hawk in Afghanistan, not the repubs.

    We really need to get over WW2. Some how, every one thinks if we send in troops it means we are creating a new democracy just like we did in Germany and Japan. Afghanistan was never part of the modern world, empires have failed for thousands of years to try and bring it into the modern world (whatever modern was at the time). It is one of those wild places in the world that may appear to belong to some govt on map but in reality belong to no one but the locals. That is how the bad guys hide out there and we had to go and root them out but to pivot from killing al Qaeda to building a liberal western democracy was …… well, lets just call it a strategic error.

    BTW, all you people who think Biden is a total idiot, he had this one right. Obama should have listened to him on this.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  6. @Me Me Me:

    Raid was launched from Afghanistan

    No, the raid was launched from a carrier in the Indian Ocean.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  7. Rob in CT says:

    I think there is broad bipartisan agreement on Afghanistan: we all want it to end, soon, but hopefully without some embarrassing post-withdrawl collapse.

    So what is there to say? IMO, the mission was expanded far beyond what it should have been (part man-hunt, part punitive expedition, then leave). And while getting OBL is nice and all, we really don’t know if operations in Afghanistan produced the intel that got him. I may be in a minority here, but I’d trade getting OBL for US withdrawl 2 years ago. Of course, that was politically impossible, so our forces stayed and good people died trying to do the impossible (turn Afghanistan into a functioning country via international occupation/nation building).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  8. Me Me Me says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Don’t be ridiculous. If the carrier had been parked on the beach at Karachi – which would be a very bad use of a carrier, but which I’m using to illustrate my point because it is as close as you can get to Abottabad – that would be a 2,000 mile round trip.

    The raid was launched from Afghanistan.

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  9. Dave Schuler says:

    I wish it were different but IMO the fact is that there is a level of casualties below which it does not attract the interest of the media or the American people. Casualty rates are closely related to operational tempo. Apparently, what has happened is that the operational tempo has now declined to a level at which casualties are produced at a level that is acceptable to Americans.

    What are we accomplishing at the present operational tempo? It doesn’t look like much to me. Would we accomplish more at a higher tempo other than getting more Americans killed?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. @Me Me Me:

    On this point you’re right. The raid was launched from a base in Afghanistan. It wasn’t until the raid was over that bin Laden’s body was taken to the aircraft carrier.

    That doesn’t preclude, however, the possibility that the mission could have been launched from sea.

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  11. Me Me Me says:

    @Doug Mataconis: So the SEALs would have flown undetected for 1,000 miles, landed in the compound, killed OBL, and then asked the Pakistanis to send a few tanker trucks so they could refuel and leave?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  12. anjin-san says:

    Some how, every one thinks if we send in troops it means we are creating a new democracy just like we did in Germany and Japan.

    Yes – and troops did not have all that much to do with changes in German and Japanese culture – bombs did. We simply bombed them until the survivors were willing to do anything to make it stop, including change. It’s hard to see this happening in the age of instant video communications.

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  13. Andy says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Very doubtful it could be launched from sea. Straight line-distance from Bagram to Abbotabad is about 200 miles. From the Indian Ocean it’s 800 miles, which is simply too far.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  14. Me Me Me says:

    @Andy:

    From the Indian Ocean it’s 800 miles, which is simply too far.

    I think it is even further than that – and that is if you are within Pakistan’s territorial waters. So what would it be from a safe distance?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  15. Scott says:

    @anjin-san: Actually, it had more to do with Japan and Germany having functional governments that surrendered unconditionally. In Afghanistan, we are not fighting a government but supporting one side in a civil war that has no governmental or political boundaries.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  16. Andy says:

    @Me Me Me:

    Yeah, 800 is just a ball-park straight-line distance. The actual distance would be a lot more due to tactical considerations in covertly transiting Pakistani airspace (avoiding population centers, pakistani military forces, radar terrain masking, etc.). The rule of thumb for helicopter flying time is about 2 miles a minute. Let’s say the actual flight distance is 1000 miles – that’s over eight hours flying time one way. You’d add another hour or two onto that to account for the multiple refuelings required. All around it’s just not a practical option.

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  17. swbarnes2 says:

    The 2,000 death mark was hit about 10 years ago in Afghanistan. Or do Afghans just not count as people to you?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  18. Herb says:

    @Me Me Me: You make some good points….but then again, we didn’t invade Afghanistan ten years ago so we could launch a SEAL raid on Pakistan last year.

    As to “it couldn’t have happened otherwise,” I’ll just repeat what my crazy right-wing uncle likes to say, “One motivated Marine…” Where there’s a will…and there was a will….there’s a way.

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  19. gVOR08 says:

    @swbarnes2: Thank you for that.

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  20. Ron Beasley says:

    I think the lack of interest just reflects the fact that with an all volunteer military very few Americans have skin in the game.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. Me Me Me says:

    @Herb:

    You make some good points….but then again, we didn’t invade Afghanistan ten years ago so we could launch a SEAL raid on Pakistan last year.

    Correct. We invaded Afghanistan ten years ago so we could get OBL ten years ago. But the Bush Administration f*cked that up just like they did everything else.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  22. Jib says:

    @anjin-san: No, that is not it. It has to do with the fact that Japan and Germany had functioning societies with democratic institutions already in place. Particularly the rule of law, the critical pre-cursor to any democracy.

    In Japans case, democrats were making enough progress that they were systematically murdered in the 20′s by military radicals, Germany had a functioning democracy and would have probably maintained it without the great depression. We were not starting from scratch in either of these countries. We helped them re-establish something that was already in the country.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  23. @Me Me Me:

    So the SEALs would have flown undetected for 1,000 miles, landed in the compound, killed OBL, and then asked the Pakistanis to send a few tanker trucks so they could refuel and leave?

    Hey look:

    http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ac/mc-130-98121553130.jpg

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  24. Me Me Me says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    That’s great if you are doing a search and rescue mission – now, tell me about doing that over Pakistan, after you’ve just violated their sovereignty.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  25. MattT says:

    Osama bin Laden is dead, but it turned out that he was living in Pakistan this whole time.

    Or at least, the whole time since Bush, Rumsfeld and Co. let him escape from Tora Bora.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  26. Hoot Gibson says:

    Oh please. It isn’t “Americans” who have tired of Afghanistan, it is the press.

    If there was a GOPer in the WH you can bet there would be nightly death rolls and non-stop photos of flag draped coffins coming into the country.

    Just as the anti-war fervor stopped when Obama was elected, so did the press interest in wars. For much of the left, including the press, it was neverso much about being anti-war as being anti-Bush

    The only way the press will care about these wars again is if Mitt Romney is elected in November. If Obama is re-elected you can expect to see the continuation of trivialities like Akin.

    The establishment press does trivial really, really well.

    Substance—not so much.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  27. bill says:

    there’s a democrat in the white house so the media backs off, it’s not that hard to see.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  28. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Let’s not completely ignore the giant elephant in the room. Had McCain won the ’08 election we’d definitely be talking about Afghanistan for the simple and obvious reason the national media loudly would have pounded that drumbeat 24/7/365.

    That all said, Zombieland has been dumbed down nearly to a state of catatonia and all indications are that it gets worse each year. Ergo it’s not at all surprising they’ve tuned out the war. All part and parcel of the long and sharp decline.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  29. Tsar,

    Do you not recognize the fact that the American public don’t support the war, and haven’t for many years, even before Obama was elected President?

    As for McCain, if he’d been elected, we’d still foolishly have a presence in Iraq and likely falling victim to the sectarian violence they’re dealing with. I don’t like much of what Obama has done, but finally ending George W. Bush’s foolish war is one thing I’m glad he did.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  30. Hoot Gibson says:

    Well gee Doug, the American people didn’t support Obamacare either, but the Dems rammed it through anyway.

    With the press cheerleading all the way.

    Just as the American people don’t support something doesn’t mean the press and their political allies won’t use all their power to make it so.

    If you consider the Death Panel in Obamacare, more people will die because of that than the Afghanistan/Iraq wars. lol

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

  31. Hoot Gibson says:

    Oh yeah, one more thing—at some point the wars will be over and the taxpayers will be off the hook. With Obamacare taxpayers will be paying for all eternity.

    And people will still hate it.

    Democrats own Obamacare—Iraq/Afghanistan will be over and Obamacare never will be.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  32. Hoot Gibson says:

    Another thing—both wars were approved by massive bipartisan majorities in congress—Obamacare not so much.

    The wars will be over at some time in the future, but Obamacare will put you, your children your grandchildren and all the fruit of your loom, er I mean loins in chaaaiiiiinnnns.

    Gonna put y’all in chains.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  33. CB says:

    @Hoot Gibson:

    man, take off the blinders and get a grip.

    the fact is, as doug has been saying, the public writ large simply doesnt care anymore. other than being an obvious effect of fighting a decade long war, id guess that a general lack of spectacular and highly visible attacks and operations has alot to do with it.

    and by the way, your conflation of the wars and ‘obamacare’ is ridiculous. as if friggin’ healthcare reform, as flawed as it is, is somehow worse than wars that have killed hundreds of thousands and ruined two countries. you jackass.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  34. Carson says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Win the war – and get out!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  35. bill says:

    if the mainstream media gave it more coverage, there would be “interest’- it’s simple. i remember the vast amount of support for this war on both sides of the aisle and the media as well. dan rather even supported as did virtually all of America- it’s just when the casualties happen that the fence sitters start acting like they didn’t know what a “war” was.

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  36. An Interested Party says:

    Oh please. It isn’t “Americans” who have tired of Afghanistan, it is the press.

    What horse$hit…if the American people were all gung-ho about Afghanistan, many of them would be waiting in long lines at recruitment stations to sign up for the fight not to mention voting for politicians who would want to keep the war going…it really is pathetic when some people want to blame our problems on the politicians or the media or Hollywood or whatever other bogeyman they can think of…our problems are caused by us…

    Another thing—both wars were approved by massive bipartisan majorities in congress…

    i remember the vast amount of support for this war on both sides of the aisle and the media as well…

    Yeah, 9/11 was good for something…a pity that Bush screwed the pooch by diverting so much to the Iraq Debacle…by the way, short attention spans are the problem, not the lack of cheerleading press coverage…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0