Editorial Column: Getting Our Attention, The War in Afghanistan

The Anniston Star

August 11, 2008 – Since American troops first planted their boots on Iraqi soil, the United States’ two-front war on terror has never been an equitable fight for attention. Thanks to the Bush administration’s policy that al-Qaida in Iraq – and not the Taliban in Afghanistan – was the top threat, U.S. soldiers searching for Osama bin Laden often have been second-page news.

That has long been an unacceptable fact.

The war in Afghanistan is no short-term game of military showmanship. Ongoing since 2001, its baseline origin is valid – searching for the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks — and its cause needs no worldwide justification. The nation was attacked, and the nation responded. But the Iraq War, now claiming more than 4,000 U.S. military lives, continues to sit on the throne of this nation’s war-zone consciousness.

That the war in Afghanistan has again pushed its way onto America’s front pages is a testament to the seriousness of the mission itself.

In a somber milestone, more than 500 U.S. troops have died in the Afghan operation, which includes deployments to Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. It’s worth noting, too, that the U.S. military lost a combined 65 troops in the Afghanistan War during May, June and July — the deadliest three-month period since that war’s inception. In July, more American soldiers died in Afghanistan than in Iraq, a first since U.S. troops were sent to overthrow Saddam Hussein in the beginning of a pre-emptive war in 2003.

Only now is America returning a portion of its divided attention to the plight of the 33,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and that war’s future. Taliban militants have increased their attacks this summer, and leaders both political and military agree that more allied troops are needed to secure the Afghan battlefields and slow the Taliban attacks.

President Bush has committed to that idea, saying more troops are slated for deployment in 2009. While campaigning this summer, Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain have both called for a U.S. military buildup in Afghanistan.

That Defense Secretary Robert Gates has endorsed the Afghanistan government’s proposal to increase the size of the Afghan army by more than 50,000 troops is a sign of the realities of America’s two-front Iraq/Afghanistan war. Gates also will restructure the military command of U.S. and NATO forces in the Afghan region.

As the New York Times noted Friday, “the two (Gates) decisions are an acknowledgement of shortcomings that continue to hinder NATO- and American-led operations in Afghanistan.” The Times also described the Iraq War as “an obstacle to any immediate American troop deployment in Afghanistan.”

What Americans are seeing clearly this summer is that the war in Afghanistan must be treated as a priority. U.S. troops are now dying at rates previously seen only in Iraq. If that doesn’t get Americans’ attention, nothing will.

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