POLITICS
11/14/2012 05:41 pm ET Updated Nov 14, 2012

Petraeus-Allen Scandal Persists As War In Afghanistan Roars On

As word began leaking out last Friday that CIA Director David Petraeus would resign because of an extramarital affair, a firefight erupted in Eastern Afghanistan between American troops and Taliban insurgents. Army Capt. James D. Nehl, a 37-year-old infantryman from Gardiner, Ore., a tiny community on the state's coast, fell, mortally wounded.

In the uproar that ensued over the Petraeus affair, with news organizations racing to identify his lover and to describe details of their liaison, Nehl's death in combat went almost unnoticed.

Except in the tiny hamlet of Gardiner and the nearby village of Reedsport, Ore. Like a lot of small towns across the country, Reedsport sends many of its young off into military service. And when one of its own falls, the impact is felt.

"Here, the story is that people aren't forgotten," Reedsport mayor and high school teacher Keith Tymchuk told The Huffington Post.

The war in Afghanistan, roaring into its 11th year, continues relentlessly even as scandal spreads to engulf Gen. John Allen, commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan. Despite talk of the war's end, some 67,000 American military personnel still are deployed in Afghanistan. And there is more fighting to come.

In the frigid air of Kyrgyzstan, the last of some 1,500 soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division's 4th brigade combat team disembarked over the last several days at Manas air base, from charter jets that had brought them from Fort Hood, Texas. At Manas, they milled around waiting for the C-17 transports that would fly them into Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, and on to their combat outposts where they are scheduled to be deployed until the fall of 2013.

On Saturday, while Petraeus' lover was being identified by news organizations as Paula Broadwell, Staff Sgt. Kenneth W. Bennett, a bomb disposal technician, was killed in an IED blast near the village of Sperwan Gar in Southern Afghanistan. Bennett, 26, was from Glendora, Calif. He had begun his third and final deployment to Afghanistan in August, with the 3rd Ordnance Battalion of Joint Base Lewis McChord, Wash.

In the swath of the country where Bennett was working, more than 21,000 IEDs, the deadly homemade bombs that have killed so many Americans and Afghans, had been safely removed in the past year. "Most people will never know your commitment," the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Frank G. Davis, said of Bennett, according to an Army report. "But thanks to you, across America and Afghanistan, fathers will be able to be with their children, husbands and wives will be together, people will be able to go home to their loved ones."

While investigations swirl around Petraeus and Allen, it appears likely that the war would outlast the careers of both men. Petraeus, who conceived and implemented the counterinsurgency doctrine that helped deflate a bloody civil war in Iraq, had been instrumental in helping craft and manage the Obama administration's blueprint for ending a major U.S. combat role in Afghanistan. With Petraeus' resignation as CIA director, his life as a public servant seems at an end.

Allen was due to be replaced this fall as the top commander in Afghanistan, but his nomination to go on to be NATO's supreme commander has been put on hold by the White House. From his NATO post, Allen was to have managed NATO's disengagement from Afghanistan as combat troops are withdrawn by the end of 2014. The four-star Marine general, who is known as a brilliant strategist, remains under investigation by the Pentagon's inspector general, who is examining what is reported to be a cache of 30,0000 or more documents exchanged between Allen and Tampa, Fla. socialite Jill Kelley.

The Obama administration currently is reviewing recommendations by Allen for further reducing and then stabilizing the number of of U.S. troops deployed in Afghanistan, through the planned end of combat operations in 2014. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said this week he expects that review to be completed "in the next few weeks."

On Monday, as further details emerged from the FBI's investigation of Petraeus' affair and Allen's relationship with Kelley, an infantry unit out of Fort Riley, Kan., came under indirect artillery fire during a battle in the town of Zerok, close to the Pakistan border in eastern Afghanistan. Army Sgt. Matthew H. Stiltz, was badly wounded and died later that day. He was 26 years old and had grown up in Spokane, Wash.

"It comforts me to know he was in the company of some really good men," Stiltz' sister Kristin told the Spokane, Wash., Spokesman-Review. "Even though he couldn't have been with his family here, he had his family in the Army. They called him brave. They said he was a true hero. They said they were honored to serve with him.

"Knowing my brother, that doesn't surprise me," she said. "He was a good brother and a true friend."

On Tuesday, the family -- Matthew's wife, Brooke Stiltz, and Mark and Terri Stiltz, his parents, traveled to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. As darkness fell Tuesday evening, a C-17 arrived carrying Matthew Stiltz's remains. A white-gloved honor guard of six soldiers carried his flag-draped coffin down the ramp in silence as those in attendance held a final salute.

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