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Weekly News Roundup: Four More Years in Afghanistan, A Warning From Mullen, the Latest From WikiLeaks

written by Matt Elliott
on October 29, 2010

President Obama has repeatedly stated that the United States will begin to withdraw its troops in Afghanistan in July of 2011. Look for it to be a slow withdrawal, says Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. Writing for The Daily Beast, Gelb estimates that the United States will be fighting in Afghanistan until the end of 2014.

The plan, NATO diplomats say, is for NATO leaders to formally announce this date at their Lisbon summit on November 19-20. Their thinking is to do this soon to reassure worried, friendly Afghans, to signal resolution to the Taliban, and to use their allied unity for political cushioning at home. NATO emissaries are still bargaining over exactly how many troops will remain after departure day and for what purposes. Details aside, the devastating truth is that U.S. forces will be fighting in Afghanistan for at least four more years.

While four more years of fighting buys President Karzai time to develop Afghan security forces, it also means more deployments for U.S. troops. As detailed in The Boston Globe this week, Marine Corporal Chuck Martin describes his life stationed in Marjah. Keeping track of daily events on a spreadsheet, in his first two months of a seven-month tour, Martin "has been in 16 firefights... done laundry twice, mailed five letters, and received two. He has spent 378 hours on post and 256 hours on patrol. He has crossed 140 miles of thorny bomb-laced farmland and waist-high trenches of water on foot... he has ripped eight pairs of pants, ruined two pairs of boots, and downed 1,350 half-liter bottles of water. His platoon has killed at least eight militants in battle and nine farm animals in crossfire. The rugged outposts he has lived in have been shot at 46 times."

If the cycle of deployments lasts another four years, the problems facing our veterans will only increase. On Wednesday, Adm. Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave a frank assessment of the cost of war, warning of the toll the past decade of war has had on our troops. "Many veterans and soldiers are coming home for whom the battle hasn't ended," he said. "For many it's just the beginning," with "difficult mental challenges, changing family dynamics, post traumatic stress."

The New York Times At War blog has an interesting post this week that looked at the decision to arm Afghans in order to elicit their help in fighting the war and Western criticism of "the inadequate accountability as arms were issued or the poor vetting of international brokers and dealers who supplied the weapons." It also explores complaints of Afghans about the weapons themselves, namely the AMD-65 rifle, which Afghans say is poorly designed and unreliable.

The Washington Post this week reports on the recent success NATO forces have had in Kandahar and an unexpected force behind it: a 32-year-old border police colonel. Abdul Razziq has led his own clearing operations and has captured hundreds of Taliban fighters. "He's like a folk hero now," said Col. Jeffrey Martindale, who commands an American army brigade in Kandahar. "The Taliban fear him."

Far away from the southern province of Kandahar is the Wakhan District, a small, finger-shaped stretch of land in the northeastern corner of Afghanistan that has been left untouched by the past nine-plus years of war. The New York Times takes a look at this part of Afghanistan few have ever considered. "There has been no war and no violence in the Wakhan," said Malang Daria, a local trekking guide who was part of a 2009 French-Afghan expedition that climbed Noshaq, at 24,580 feet Afghanistan's highest peak. "The people here are very peaceful, very calm." The article describes the nomadic people and herders that populate the area and the lack of modern services along with a nascent tourism industry and schools being built.

The headlines from Iraq recently have centered around the latest batch of classified documents released by WikiLeaks last Friday. The Guardian reports the files show the United States ignored torture and routinely failed to report civilian casualties. Should we be surprised that war is ugly? For more, check out The New York Times' Q&A, where it answers questions submitted by readers about the information contained in the latest WikiLeaks files.

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