Sunday, June 27, 2010

...and counting....

(Occasional sobering thoughts.) It's been fully 14 weeks since we last took account of the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
The headline news this past week, of course, has been President Barack Obama's firing of U.S. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal from command of forces in Afghanistan. The Oval Office dismissal came days after the online publication of spoken, and gestured, criticisms by McChrystal and his staff, the crudeness of which reads as a juvenile and downright dumb effort by military brass to out-Rolling Stone the Rolling Stone. (Perhaps if they'd seen the Gaga cover that would cloak the McChrystal story, they'd have known the futility of any such effort.)
Also seizing headlines was Obama's in-an-instant replacement of McChrystal with Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq from 2007 to 2008.
But neither seems the real story.
More likely, the real story is Obama's insistence that no change in war-waging policy would accompany the change in war-waging generals:
We are going to break the Taliban's momentum. We are going to build Afghan capacity. We are going to relentlessly apply pressure on al-Qaida and its leadership, strengthening the ability of both Afghanistan and Pakistan to do the same.
Whether that's in fact the last word on policy remains to be seen.
On her 1st day in office Friday, Julia Gillard, the new Prime Minister of Australia, assured Obama in a phone conversation that "supports the war in Afghanistan and he can rely on her to continue the commitment of troops." (credit for 2009 photo of Gillard, then Deputy Prime Minister, visiting Australian troops in Iraq shortly before their withdrawal from that country)
Yet in the country contributing the most troops after the United States to the NATO effort in Afghanistan, the news of the week was the 300th British servicemember death there. Not surprisingly, yesterday the new Prime Minister, David Cameron, sounded a rather more measured tone after meeting with Obama on the 1st day of this week's G-20 summit in Toronto. Cameron said:

Making progress this year, putting everything we have into getting it right this year is vitally important.
Criticism of the tactics of the AfPak war also persist, as was evident in the attention paid the public defense of targeted-killing-by-drones, delivered in March by State Department Legal Adviser Harold Hongju Koh. Four persons were killed in a drone raid yesterday, another 13 last week; "Pakistani officials have told the BBC that the US have carried out at least 70 such raids since January."
Also of concern, the continued spike in civilian deaths, a trend that Obama's promised to work to reverse:
Figures from the Pentagon show 90 civilians were killed by American or NATO forces in the first four months of this year, compared with 51 in the same period last year ...
As for Iraq?
Far less news. About a hundred persons killed by car bombs in May, on the "bloodiest day this year." More recently, reports of scattered violence "as," to quote The New York Times, "as the country’s political stalemate dragged on."
With these developments in mind, we revisit the casualty count since our last "...and counting..." post 6 weeks ago:
► The U.S. Department of Defense reports that coalition military casualties in Afghanistan stand at 1,141 Americans, 308 Britons, and 425 other coalition servicemembers. That's an increase of 117, 43, and 32 casualties, respectively, in the last 14 weeks. The total coalition casualty count in the Afghanistan conflict is 1,874 service women and men.
► Respecting the conflict in Iraq, Iraq Body Count reports that between 96,813 and 105,563 Iraqi women, children, and men have died in the conflict in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, representing an increase of between 1,089 and 1,136 deaths in the last 14 weeks.
According to the U.S. Defense Department, 4,408 American servicemembers have been killed in Iraq, representing 23 servicemember deaths in the last 14 weeks. (As posted, U.S. troops are the only foreign forces remaining in Iraq.)

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