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Weekly News Roundup: Serving Under Don't Ask, Don't Tell; Afghan Casualties and Elections; and the Children of Al Qaeda in Iraq

written by Matt Elliott
on September 24, 2010

We start this week not in the battlefields of Iraq or Afghanistan but on the floor of the U.S. Senate, where on Tuesday a move stalled to end the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding gay service members. The Senate voted 56 to 43 against taking up the annual Pentagon authorization bill, which included a provision to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The vote was clouded by politics, with Democrats attaching an immigration measure that Republicans opposed. The good news is that support for the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" can be found in both parties; another vote to repeal the policy is expected after December 1, when a study of the effects of the policy is due.

What effect has this policy had on the lives and careers of gay and lesbian soldiers? The New York Times At War blog had an illuminating post this week, where seven current and former soldiers describe how "don't ask, don't tell" directly affected their service.

A helicopter crash in Afghanistan's Zabul province killed nine NATO soldiers on Tuesday. The total number of NATO troops killed in Afghanistan this year sits at 530, which makes it the deadliest year of the war with three-plus months left on the ledger. A Washington Post blogger asks, Can we bear these record casualties?, while our own blogger, Lewis Manalo argues that numbers don't tell the whole story.

More numbers: ProPublica reported yesterday that "more private contractors than soldiers were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent months, the first time in history that corporate casualties have outweighed military losses on America's battlefields." Looking at U.S. Department of Labor reports, ProPublica found that 250 contractors died in Iraq and Afghanistan during the first half of this year; over that same time period, 235 U.S. soldiers died. The report explains that government statistics often understate civilian deaths because companies often fail to report injuries and deaths of their employees to the federal government:

"The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are the most privatized in American military history. Today, there are 150,000 troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. As of March 2010, there were more than 200,000 private contractors, though that number is believed to have declined with the drawdown of U.S. forces."

A Christian Science Monitor article asks an interesting question this week, "Are Afghanistan elections hurting democracy?" Parliamentary elections were held last Saturday, and while the results won't be known for weeks, reports of fraud, corruption, and low turnout abound. Groups monitoring the elections worry that the fraud and corruption will "create an ineffective parliament [that] amounts to a kind of democracy theater."

Another take on the chaotic election process includes this stunner of a line from an Afghan who decided not to vote out of fear of reprisal from the Taliban:

"I didn't participate in the election, because the candidates will get the benefit and we will lose our finger. The indelible ink remains for some time and the Taliban can easily know that you cast a vote. In fact, nobody from my family voted in the election, and five people were eligible. We preferred to stay in, due to the bad security."

Lastly, a story from The Washington Times about the children of Al Qaeda in Iraq. Often the result of forced marriages or rape, these children are undocumented, which means "they do not have birth certificates, passports or national identification cards and will be unable to go to school or hold a government job."

It leaves the mothers of these children in a difficult spot. "Many of the women don't know the real identities of their absent husbands and fear that if they fight for the rights of their children, they and the men of their families will be scorned or jailed for a connection to the outlawed organization."

And the effects of this situation could be felt a generation from now. "It's dangerous because in the future they might hurt the society that hurt them," said Ahmed Jassim, director of the Nour Foundation, a nongovernmental organization working to improve the lives of the militants' offspring in the northeastern Iraqi province of Diyala.

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