Ten years ago this week, the United States invaded Afghanistan with the mission to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda cohorts. We were a nation roused to war through “righteous indignation”, and since then, millions of America’s youth have been encouraged to perform voluntary service for an operation called Enduring Freedom. For the majority of this time, our soldiers had to balance that fight with an additional call for Iraqi Freedom.
The public’s distaste for our involvement in the Middle East has been apparent for some time and has sharply increased since Bin Laden was eliminated from the picture earlier this year. Recent polls show overwhelming public opposition to the occupation of Afghanistan (the metrics on Iraq don’t seem to carry much weight now that “combat operations” have ended). But now, even veterans of these conflicts have found a strong voice in opposition to the wars: The wars haven’t been worth the costs, say many veterans.
Perhaps veterans’ disillusionment is the result of officials openly talking about dragging on the occupation of Afghanistan for a “long time” to come. Or maybe enough milestones to “victory” have come and gone without any resolution that soldiers are really beginning to question whether or not there is an end in sight to the objective of eradicating the idea known as ‘terrorism’, forcing them to count the costs of war.
A total of 6,278 American soldiers have died on the battlefield (this number is much higher if you count those who lost their lives outside of combat from wounds sustained on the battlefield) and $1.26 T-rillion in taxpayer dollars have been invested in the two wars since 2001. This has only spawned more wars with ambiguous objectives and increased the threat of even more on the horizon. It’s not hard to imagine why a significant percentage of veterans question whether or not the wars have been worth it.
Disconnected from public opinion, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Wednesday lobbied NATO’s European members to believe in the cause of war and dramatically increase their spending on it in order to avoid a “hollowed out alliance.” Pointing to the “lessons of Libya,” Panetta urged NATO countries to pick up the slack in the Pentagon’s slightly constricted budget by massively increasing their own military spending.
Meanwhile, President Obama is continuing the militarization of other countries by waving a Congressional ban on military funding to nations that recruit children for soldiering for the second year in a row. The armed forces of Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Yemen and the newly formed South Sudan all use child soldiers according to human rights groups.
These countries will receive a total of more than $200 million in military assistance from the United States in 2012 despite an act of Congress that took effect in 2010 banning all forms of Foreign Military Financing (FMF) to countries that use soldiers under the age of 18.