We Must Stop Not Talking About Afghanistan

When eight British soldiers were killed in Afghanistan the second week of July, bringing the total lost to 184, the country’s media exploded in debate. The deaths meant that Britain had lost more troops in Afghanistan than in Iraq. And from the front pages - where the soldiers’ public funerals were prominently covered - to deep inside, the Independent, the Times, the Guardian, the Telegraph and other newspapers took a serious look at the policy of Gordon Brown’s government in Afghanistan. Television programs were likewise engaged. As well as the parliamentary opposition.


One complaint provoking widespread ire was something familiar to Americans, a lack of adequate equipment for those sent into harm’s way. In this case, it was not having enough helicopters used to extract soldiers in tight spots. But, in spite of the government’s inadequate reply, that wasn’t the primary issue explored in the media page after page, day after day. What underpinned all of the tens of thousands of words devoted to the subject boiled down to why are we there? and when are we coming home?

Ian, Nigel and Donald, soldiers of the First Battalion of the Prince of Wales Own Regiment, just returned from Kosovo, stand in front of the York Minster on July 21. Asked if they expected to go to Afghanistan, Nigel said, "I hope not." Donald interjected, "We go where we’re sent." [Photo by MB]

As of today, 206 British soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, and the debate has intensified. Not least because General Sir David Richards, who takes over Friday as the Chief of the General Staff, said of Afghanistan in an interview August 8: "This is nation-building — not the starry-eyed type, but nation-building none the less. It is not just reconstruction; jobs and simple governance ... The army’s role will evolve, but the whole process might take as long as 30 or 40 years."

That statement brought on fresh media outbursts. And while other British generals say the mission requires more troops, however long it lasts, there was also buzz over Brown apparently seeking to bring home as many as 1500 of Britain’s troops by the end of the year.

In the United States, however, there has been comparatively little coverage of Afghanistan, a bare whisper of debate. Funerals of the scores of Americans killed in the Afghan surge have not made it to the front page. Worse, most of the left blogosphere, once alive with fierce daily discussion of war, has had only brief flurries of commentary and analysis on Afghanistan since President Obama’s speech about his new policy in March to "dismantle, disrupt, and defeat" al-Qaida. It’s become the invisible war. That’s in spite of the fact that far more Americans are now dying there than in Iraq, and this year the Pentagon is slated to spend $65 billion there, as opposed to $61 billion in Iraq.

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