Three American soldiers were killed and three other service members, along with an American civilian contractor, were injured Tuesday when a roadside bomb exploded in Afghanistan. The deadly attack made the news here amid the 24/7 coverage of President Trump, the conflict at the U.S. Mexican border, Paul Manafort, the Mueller investigation and the GM layoffs.
However, the deaths of those soldiers—there have been eleven American soldiers killed this year in Afghanistan including Sgt. Maj. Timothy Bolyard from West Virginia—did not trigger any serious public debate about our role in Afghanistan.
The U.S. has been at war in Afghanistan since shortly after 9/11. Since then, over 2,300 Americans have been killed and another 20,000 have been wounded. The cost is approaching $1 trillion. Some 15,000 U.S. troops are now in Afghanistan, working with Afghan security forces to try to hold off the Taliban.
Yet it feels like America mostly wants to ignore the war, and public sentiment has shifted from largely supporting the war to questioning the mission. A Pew Research Poll last month found that 49 percent of adults say the United States has “mostly failed” in Afghanistan, while 35 percent say it has “mostly succeeded.”
Congress does not appear interested in a rigorous public debate about the war. The Associated Press reported last March at a Senate hearing on top U.S. security threats, “the word ‘Afghanistan’ was spoken exactly four times, each during introductory remarks. In the ensuing two hours of questions for intelligence agency witnesses, no senator asked about Afghanistan.”
In June 2011, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who had been in office only a few months, took to the floor and called for a withdrawal of American Forces from Afghanistan. His remarks triggered a harsh rebuke from Senator John McCain.
“I view the senator from West Virginia’s remarks as at least uninformed about history and strategy and the challenges we face from radical Islamic extremism,” McCain said.
Manchin never backed down, and he has continued his call for the troops to come home. He said on MetroNews Talkline Tuesday that both Presidents Obama and Trump promised to end the war, but failed to do so. “They all seem to have the rhetoric, and no one seems to have the follow up. It’s time to come out of there.”
The argument against withdrawal is that Afghanistan will again become a haven for Islamic radicals who could attack the United States, while supporters of pulling out, like Manchin, believe we’re expending blood and treasurer on a lost cause.
Which side is right is a matter of debate, but it’s a debate we are not having. President Trump doesn’t like to talk about it. In recent weeks we have had more arguments about sending U.S. troops to the Mexican border than about the mission of the 15,000 troops in Afghanistan.
The United States is at war, but unless you are a soldier who has been to Afghanistan or you have a family member serving in harm’s way, the conflict is nearly invisible, except on the pages of major newspapers. The New York Times, to its credit, has continued to cover the war almost daily. The paper has had at least two dozen stories this month about Afghanistan.
But beyond that, the cable channels apparently have largely forgotten about Afghanistan, except when an American solider dies which, tragically, continues to happen.