The Washington Post reports that the Medal of Honor, our nation's highest military decoration, may be awarded to a living soldier for the first time since the Vietnam War. The soldier's name is being withheld until after the White House completes its review. According to the article, the Army soldier "ran through a wall of enemy fire in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley in fall 2007 in an attempt to push back Taliban fighters who were close to overrunning his squad. U.S. military officials said his actions saved the lives of about half a dozen men."
Since the start of the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the Medal of Honor has been awarded but six times, all posthumously. Interestingly, a Pentagon spokesperson points out in the article that while the criteria for awarding the Medal of Honor hasn't changed since Vietnam, the nature of warfare has. Instead of being engaged in prolonged firefights where a soldier could display the valor and heroism to meet the criteria of a Medal of Honor, U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq more frequently face roadside bomb attacks and quick ambushes. In the remote valleys of Afghanistan such as the Korengal Valley, however, U.S. forces find themselves isolated from air support and in close proximity to the enemy in the mountain terrain, resulting in longer exchanges of fire. If awarded to a living soldier, the Medal of Honor could create a visible war hero for a public that some say has largely tuned out of the longest-running war in U.S. history.
Dismissing the general in command of the region certainly brought the war in Afghanistan back into the headlines. General Petraeus relieves General McCrystal at a critical time. With only 12 months before President Obama's troop draw-down date of July 2011, Petraeus must show quick progress on the ground. It isn't going to be easy; June was the bloodiest month since the start of the war, with at least 102 coalition troops killed, at least 60 of which were U.S. service members. Additionally, VANews.com reports that confusion surrounds the deadline, with many wondering what moves, if any, we'll make to begin withdrawing troops. Further complicating Petraeus's mission in Afghanistan is the House budget committee withholding $4 billion in aid from the next budget over allegations of corruption, with Afghan officials and foreign contractors thought to be stealing much of the country's aid. Afghanistan's finance minister points the finger at foreign contractors, claiming the Afghan government is able to distribute the aid.
Meanwhile, the troop withdrawal in Iraq goes largely unnoticed. Huffington Post blogger Chris Weigant writes that with all that is happening in Afghanistan lately, Iraq has stirred little discussion, even though our troop withdrawal there is well underway. Perhaps that's a good sign; the withdrawal is proceeding so smoothly that there's no news there. The old line, no news is good news, is particularly apt when applied to a war zone. There were 140,000 troops on the ground when Obama took office, and that number has decreased to 82,000 today and is expected to dip below 50,000 by September 1. In contrast to the past month in Afghanistan, the military had one the fewest monthly death tolls in Iraq in June since the war began; 8 U.S. soldiers lost their lives last month there.
With the draw-down of U.S. forces proceeding as planned, recent headlines coming out of Iraq lately have instead focused on economic development, from China upping its investments in the country and a natural gas deal with Royal Dutch Shell to a $238 million real estate project about to get underway in Baghdad. It's one of the biggest projects since the fall of Saddam's Baathist regime and will will include 3,500 residential apartments, a five-star hotel, an office tower and an upscale shopping mall.
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