Monday was the 12th anniversary of the beginning of the United States's war in Afghanistan. Very few people noticed. It was on October 7, 2001, not even a month after 9/11 attacks, that the first bombs were dropped, launching an overseas endeavor that America is still trying to remove itself from.
When the President decided to ask Congress for permission to strike Syria this year, the American people spoke up. The country was "war weary," some said. The administration promised there would be no "boots on the ground" in Syria, only coordinated air strikes against Bashar al-Assad's army. Still, the people did not want to drag the U.S. into another prolonged conflict. Time was still needed to heal after the deep financial, physical and emotional costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Huffington Post looked at the numbers inflicted by Afghanistan alone:
In the past 12 years, at least 2,146 members of the U.S. military have died while serving in Afghanistan. This figure includes four American soldiers who were killed by an IED explosion in the south of the country on Sunday.
The war should be over soon. The President pledged to pull all troops out of the country by 2014. Over the weekend he said some troops may be left behind to train Afghan security forces to ensure terrorism doesn't rise in the country again, but first we need to reach an important deal with Afghanistan's government. Today, Afghan president Hamid Karzai criticized NATO's presence in his country, signalling that the quest for a peaceful partnership is still a long way off. For these reasons, The Atlantic's Stephanie Gaskell argued today, the last year in Afghanistan may be the war's most important one:
This final year of the war in Afghanistan will be the most crucial. A bilateral security agreement between Washington and Kabul needs to be reached to allow some U.S. and NATO troops to stay behind, training the Afghan army and police and conducting targeted counterterrorism operations. And a presidential election set for April 5 will decide who replaces the iconic Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s strongman since 2002. All while bringing about half of the more than 50,000 U.S. troops home by February.
"There is a bloody war happening, and no one is talking about it," Ahmad Majidyar, an Afghanistan expert at the American Enterprise Institute and adviser to the U.S. Army, told Stars and Stripes on Monday. Indeed, other experts agree the war has been almost completely left behind, even as anti-American violence has continued and the allies are forced to negotiate with their former enemy, the Taliban.
The harsh truth is that American attention has been diverted elsewhere. "Afghanistan was truly a forgotten war (when) Obama took over and it became it again after the surge was over," said George Mason University professor A. Trevor Thrall. Whether or not we continue forgetting about Afghanistan (and the lessons it could teach us) after the majority of American troops are withdrawn may ultimately determine the war's final tainted legacy.