Yesterday’s photo of the day showcased four U.S. servicemen from the 333rd Horizontal Engineer Company (HEC) at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, courtesy of NCPR listener SGT Matthew Coletta.
The saying “out of sight, out of mind” might describe the war in Afghanistan. Way back in June of 2010 it attained the dubious distinction of becoming America’s longest-running war. (Note: Some dispute that claim, depending on one’s definition of when the U.S. was drawn into Vietnam. But since U.S. troops are still in Afghanistan, that conflict could still beat all others, by most reckonings.)
Anyway, this is all by way of leading up to the observation that the end is in sight for Canada’s military presence in Afghanistan. While Canada’s combat mission there ended back in 2011, Canadian military personnel are still in Afghanistan participating in NATO training of Afghan army and police security forces under Operation-ATTENTION. (Scheduled to wrap up by the end of March 2014.)
That time line means this was the last Christmas in that part of the world for Canadian forces. As reported by Bruce Campion-Smith in the Toronto Star, Canadians in uniform there are counting down the days:
Much of the equipment has been returned to Canada and just 260 soldiers remain in Afghanistan. Many will fly home in January, leaving about 100 who will remain until the mission ends in mid-March.At that point, the departure of the Canadians will end a military commitment that began in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Canadian forces initially deployed to Kandahar, moved to Kabul and then returned to Kandahar for a prolonged combat mission in southern Afghanistan.
The commitment has been a costly one. According to the defence department, 138 soldiers were killed in action, another 20 died from other causes; 635 were wounded and a further 1,436 soldiers suffered non-battle injuries. These include soldiers injured in traffic accidents, other accidental injuries and those returned home for medical reasons.
Here’s a chart of lives lost in that conflict among participating nations – not counting Afghan soldiers and civilians, which may be unknown but is surely quite high. The latest death on the U.S. forces’ casualty list came on December 23rd. Contentious negotiations continue regarding an eventual end to U.S. military and security engagement in Afghanistan.
And what do readers think? Was the mission there ever clear, and attainable? Did hostile locals simply take advantage of the west’s limited attention span and wait it out?
Or is this some endless loop of unlearned history – “never get involved in a land war in Asia” – including Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires?