The cost of the Afghanistan war is rising. Tens of thousands of Afghan civilians have been killed or wounded. July has been the deadliest month in the war for NATO combatants, with at least 50 troops, including 26 Americans, killed. Roadside bomb attacks on coalition forces are swelling the number of wounded and killed. In June, the tally of incidents involving roadside bombs, also called improvised explosive devices (IEDs), hit 736, a record for the fourth straight month; the number had risen from 361 in March to 407 in April and to 465 in May. The decision by President Barack Obama to send 21,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan has increased our presence to 57,000 American troops. The total is expected to rise to at least 68,000 by the end of 2009. It will only mean more death, expanded fighting and greater futility.
Robert Gates has the US response:
WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Monday announced a temporary increase in the size of the Army of up to 22,000 troops to meet what he called the “persistent pace” of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The increase, to occur over the next three years, will raise the size of the Army to 569,000 active-duty soldiers. An expansion to 547,000 soldiers, announced by Mr. Gates in 2007, was completed in May.
“The Army faces a period where its ability to continue to deploy combat units at acceptable fill rates is at risk,” Mr. Gates said…We’re bleeding ourselves dry in Afghanistan for no discernible reason, and the Secretary of Defense speaks in dull monotones about persistent paces and “acceptable fill rates.” Yet nobody questions it. There is no debate about our presence in Afghanistan at all. It just goes on and on and on. Does the cost increase? No problem, we’ll raise the military budget. Is the “fill rate” unacceptable? No problem, we’ll enlarge the Army.
Good thing for the Pentagon, unemployment here at home is rising. That means an ever expanding ‘resource pool’ they can fish from to help match the persistent pace of ongoing operations.
I can’t help picturing a group of Pentagon officials sitting around a conference table drinking lemon water and diet sodas, listening to one of their colleagues drone on from some White Paper about the military benefit of high unemployment: “Surplus population in the non-producing sectors offers enhanced opportunities for personnel augmentation in the upcoming year of operations … ”
Meanwhile, an illiterate Pashtun tribesmen is building a bomb in an Afghan mountain pass that his family’s lived at since the time of Tamerlane, and that bomb is going to kill someone you might know.
Them’s the breaks. It’s all about maintaining acceptable fill rates. He died a hero.
There’s a famous quote from the seventeenth century Swedish Count Oxenstierna, written in a letter to his son, that comes to mind whenever I think about US policy: “You do not know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed.”