Monday, August 01, 2005

Afghanistan--The Other Iraq Fatigue

Atrios posted on "Iraq Fatigue" in the media over the weekend, i.e., the fact that Operation Instant Gratification and, Look Mom, I'm Embedded! is Operation It's Not So Shiny Now (aside: nothing sums that up quite as well as a small paragraph in this WaPo story that Steve Gilliard found:

Ryan Autery's calamity was scarcely noted when it happened last August.

The headline was: "Marine injured in bomb explosion that claimed life of another."

The 236-word, nine-paragraph Associated Press report out of Murfreesboro, Tenn., announced that the then-19-year-old from LaVergne, near Nashville, "lost a limb" when his Humvee hit a land mine in Najaf, Iraq. Another Tennessee Marine, Cpl. Brad P. McCormick, 23, had been killed, the report said.

And while Iraq is fading into desert sand--at least as far as the media is concerned--events in Afghanistan likewise are becoming the press. For the soldiers, it's anything but:

WHEN the paratroopers of Chosen Company learnt that their battalion was to be sent to the mountains of southern Afghanistan instead of back to the deserts of Iraq, they heaved a collective sigh of relief.

“I thought it’d be pretty relaxed, that I’d be spending a lot of time in the gym,” Sergeant Timothy Smith recalled wryly. “I figured it was more of a peacekeeping mission than anything.”

But less than a month after setting up camp amid the rugged mountains of Zabul province, the heartland of the Taleban, they walked right into the battle of their lives — an intense hand-to-hand fight with what proved to be a surprisingly tenacious and determined enemy.

Dug into bunkers in an orchard in the remote village of Gazek Kula, armed with machineguns and rocketpropelled grenade launchers, dozens of Taleban fighters fought for hours with the Americans, about 50 of them to the death.

Weeks later the Americans were in action again, battling for almost 12 hours to oust at least 200 Taleban from the district headquarters in Miana Shin.

“It’s the most intense combat I’ve ever seen,” Sergeant Smith said. “They fight harder than anyone in Iraq ever did. I really never expected anything like this. We all kind of thought the Taleban were gone.”

In the last four months, 37 US soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan--that's far less than in Iraq, but it's a strong indicator that Central Asia isn't exactly pacified. The article goes on to note that the resurgent Taliban are a mix and match of locals and people crossing the border from Pakistan...which speaks volumes as to the effectiveness of our "ally" Busharr, excuse me, Musharraf.

To be fair, Musharraf is walking the thinnest of tightropes; however, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that, under the circumstances, it might not be all that wise to team up with him (then again, maybe we don't have much choice--things came to um, a boil with Uzbekistan "President" Islam Karimov over the weekend).

As a result, in Afghanistan we find ourselves Iraq a rock and a hard Pakistan, with little end in sight. Like their Mesopotamian counterparts, the insurgents in Central Asia can wait us out--they're not going anywhere. Meanwhile, the media will move on to other shiny objects, leaving the soldiers wondering if anyone gives a damn about the fact that they're fighting, dying, and, if not dying, living in horrific conditions--and stuck in a situation every bit as difficult as Sisyphus's.

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