Among the symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that many of our most recent war veterans will carry with them for the rest of their lives, hypervigilance -- the experience of being "on guard" and prepared for the worst every waking minute -- will be one of the most pervasive. It is especially acute among our men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan as they have served in countries where they are not only in constant danger, but where that risk is aggravated by the enemy often hiding in plain sight and blending easily with other Iraqi or Afghan citizens.
Lately, our troops can't even trust people wearing the uniform of their counterparts in the Afghan Army or police force.
Another sickening example came home to roost on Tuesday with the announcement by the Defense Department that 20-year-old Army Pfc. Jarrod A. Lallier, 20, of Spokane, Wash., was killed in Zharay Afghanistan "of wounds suffered when individuals in Afghan Police uniforms turned their weapons against his unit." A spokesman for Afghanistan's Kandahar province reported that the attackers fired a rocket-propelled grenade at Lallier's unit and fled the scene.
According to the Associated Press, it was unclear whether the gunmen were in fact members of the Afghan National Police or militants dressed in their uniforms.
Nine U.S. troops were also injured in the attack.
Lallier, a paratrooper who had already been awarded the Bronze Star, was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C., and was serving his first combat tour in Afghanistan.
"Pfc. Lallier was a quiet professional; he impressed people with his deeds, not words," said Capt. Michael Kelvington, commander of the regiment, in a release. "He was proud to be a part of the rare .45 percent that served his nation in a noble cause."
"Never shying away from a challenge, his performance during operations over the past few months in combat has been everything that I could ask from a daring paratrooper," Kelvington continued. "His example and love for his brothers will be deeply missed. It was a privilege to serve alongside of him."
The attack that killed Lallier is part of the disturbing trend in Afghanistan known as "green on blue" violence, or instances where U.S. and NATO troops are attacked by militants disguised as members of the Afghan Army or police or, infinitely worse, those who are in fact serving in that capacity. The attacks have spiked this year as American troops step up their training of Afghan forces for an eventual turnover of the country's security.
More than a dozen such attacks have occurred this year, causing 20 or more deaths.
Also yesterday, militants wearing Afghan Army uniforms attacked a military base and a police checkpoint. Earlier in the day, gunmen wearing Afghan police uniforms attacked a checkpoint in Kandahar city.
In March, two U.S. soldiers were killed at the Sang-e-Sar outpost in Kandahar when two Afghan soldiers and a civilian teacher fired at the Americans.
According to U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, attacks like this are common in any warfare involving an insurgent element.
"We experienced these in Iraq. We experienced them in Vietnam," Allen said in March. "On any occasion where you're dealing with an insurgency and where you're also growing an indigenous force ... the enemy's going to do all that they can to disrupt both the counterinsurgency operations."
So we know a couple of things here. One is that our troops have never been in a "conventional" war in Afghanistan and it is getting even worse to the point of not being able to tell when their Afghan counterparts -- or someone dressed exactly like them -- are going to shoot them or blow them up. In addition, American men and women are continuing to die in a country that seems destined for endless civil war and where everyone from Alexander The Great to the Russians have had their asses handed to them in this eternal cultural and tactical nightmare.
Despite all that we veterans agree on these days, one of the sticking points in our conversations is invariably the debate over whether our troops still have a mission in Afghanistan or if they no longer serve any purpose other than being live targets and sitting ducks in the middle of a perpetual holy war.
I say it's past time to bring them home.
Ten years is enough. Our original mission was to get Osama bin Laden and defeat al-Qaeda. If you'll pardon the expression, mission accomplished.
We were never there to stomp out every last vestige of the Taliban -- are we prepared to be there hundreds of years to do that? -- and we damned sure should not be sacrificing even one more of our men and women to force democracy on a country where that society is about as likely as the village elders welcoming in casinos and strip clubs.
The fight to protect our country against terrorism is ongoing and a righteous one -- but that's a war without defined borders and it's time we stop pretending this definition exists and that our troops are in the right place. They are not.
I know many will disagree with me on this and that's fine. But I can't look at one more picture of yet another young man or woman who has been killed for the current non-mission in Afghanistan and think it's worth even one more American death.
It just isn't.
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