Sgt. Charlie Vasquez of Hammond is hugged by his family, including his sister Daisy Zamora, (left) during the homecoming celebration for the Indiana National Guard 713th Engineer Company at the Army Aviation Support Facility in Gary, Ind. Wednesday September 26, 2012. The soldiers returned from a year's deployment to Afghanistan. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 29, 2012 6:51AM
Today marks the official end of the “surge” in which 30,000 extra U.S. troops were sent to Afghanistan, but it doesn’t end the debate over how quickly to wind down what is now America’s longest war.
It was a bittersweet moment this week to see the 95-member 713th Engineer Company return to Indiana after completing the Indiana National Guard’s deadliest deployment ever. The soldiers were glad to be home, but couldn’t forget their six comrades who died in the yearlong deployment.
The extra U.S. troops actually exited Afghanistan a week early, with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta saying the surge had reversed “the Taliban momentum.” But it just doesn’t feel that way.
Some analysts say conditions are worse than when the surge began. A $33 billion effort over 10 years to build up Afghanistan’s military and police isn’t widely seen as a success. Afghani corruption remains rife. Fifty-one American and allied troops have been killed by Afghan soldiers and police officers this year. Americans now keep their body armor on and their weapons loaded even on fortified bases.
The casualties, including a suicide attack on Wednesday that killed two members of a NATO patrol, have dropped off the front pages, and the war seems overshadowed by events in Libya, Syria and Iran. In all, 988 U.S. soldiers have been killed since the surge began. Even after the surge’s end, 68,000 Americans remain in Afghanistan.
Polls show more than 60 percent of Americans don’t want to wait until the end of 2014 to end our troops’ direct combat. As Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.), a defense hawk, said this week, “we’re killing kids who don’t need to die.”
Even for a day, we cannot allow ourselves to forget our soldiers’ heroism. As the mother of one member of the returning 713th Company said, “Proud is not the word — it goes way beyond that.”