No stock market references in this post, though.
I've been keeping up on all the stories to have come out in the media since the Chinook carrying 38 souls was brought down in neighboring Wardak Province the other night. One of the things I feared -- that someone on that bird had been a guy I had deployed with (Habbaniyah, 07-08) has already come true and I'm bracing for the full release of names by the Pentagon.
One of my best friends is a Naval Officer who supports *those guys* in Virginia Beach. Though he's not a SEAL either, he's a part of the greater community and, considering he's just committed another three years to a constant in-and-out overseas deployment rotation cycle with them, he is fully vested in what they do. I haven't written to him yet, maybe because I don't really know what to say.
What I do know, though, is that op-ed writers, bloggers, and others who are looking for some kind of great symbolism or meaning from this on the strategic level are misguided. Coalition aircraft get shot at every day in Afghanistan. Trust me, I read the reports. A lot of times, it's small arms, which don't pose a huge threat (though if they hit the hydraulic lines in just the right way, look out), but when we're talking RPGs (Rocket-Propelled Grenades) there is a risk to the aircraft. And in Afghanistan, where there are mountains everywhere and most roads are impassable, we rely on those Chinooks quite a bit.
There was no secret that a special brand of Coalition Forces was in Sayed Abad a couple nights ago, as Direct Action missions followed by huge firefights in the middle of the night tend to fall right into their lane.
Everyone in the area knew they were there. An insurgent saw the target, and he fired at it. A terrible tragedy ensued for a lot of people -- not just in Virginia Beach, but in lots of other parts of the US, and in Afghanistan, too (remember, there were seven Afghan soldiers plus some of our regular, non-SEAL Joes).
Whether you agree, disagree, or are somewhere in the middle on the question of whether we should stay committed to Afghanistan, militarily, that SIGACT (Significant Activity) shouldn't change your calculus much.
As for me, I think we're generally on the right track as far as reducing troop numbers gradually (although we play a shell game with troop numbers by hiring 90,000 contractors here...yes, 90,000). We can still stay committed in a more subtle way, as we do in places like Colombia and the Philippines, where insurrections can be quietly thwarted without too many headlines or too much interest back home.
I would also point out that there are a lot of cultural factors in play here in Afghanistan that don't get covered in the "if it bleeds, it leads" 24/7 news media cycle. Driving around Kabul, the signs of western influence are everywhere. Things are way different I'm sure in the Nuristans and the Kunars, but the trend here, where 10%+ of the population actually lives, is a sharp turn away from the folks who would roll the whole thing back to the stone age.
That's not just about televisions, and energy drinks, and American pop music, but it's also a statement about the basic preventive health care introduced since 2001 that's estimated to have saved over a million lives (that's based on Afghan Ministry of Health stats, partly drawn from decreases in infant/child mortality, and partly by reductions in easily-preventable/treatable diseases).
Even though I'm not actually outside-the-wire every day, or even more than twice a week in most cases, a lot of my job involves following trends, writing reports, and developing an understanding of the society around me that can be pushed both up, down, and laterally across the battlespace.
After a few months deeply immersed in observation, reading, writing, and conversing, I don't have any grand conclusions to draw, other than to drown out the shrillest, least informed voices on both sides of the proverbial aisle and come back to this shade of gray: It's complicated.