LOCAL GRIEF IN WAR OF WORDS

BY NORMAN M. COVERT

(FREDERICK, Md.)–While President Barack Obama and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai maintain their Chess gambit of words, it is clear that no “move” matches up to the Teddy Roosevelt watchword of walking softly and carrying a big stick.

Army patrol in Helmand Province. Not difficult to notice the editorial comment from soldier at left as they venture into the desolate terrain. (Courtesy photo)

Obama talks softly and Karzai wields the big stick, all in the name of ridding that Stone Age world of radical Muslim factions.

Major Robert J. Marchanti II, assassinated Feb. 25, 2012 by Taliban gunmen. (Courtesy photo)

While the leaders prattle, casualties mount. So far, Maryland has lost 40 of its own to the killing field of Afghanistan.  The latest is a former school teacher from Baltimore County, Maryland National Guardsman Maj. Robert J. Marchanti II.

Marchanti and comrade Air Force Lt. Col. John D. Loftis are the latest U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) casualties. Information confirmed they were assassinated Feb. 25th by Taliban terrorists while sitting at their desks in the Afghan Defense Ministry’s Security Center in Kabul.

The numbers show more than 1,900 Americans have died as a result of the Afghan combat and terrorist activity. The number is part of the total of nearly 3,000 deaths suffered by NATO forces in country since 2001.

Closer to home three contiguous counties still mourn the deaths of 12 of their own in Afghanistan. It is increasingly clear that this is 12 deaths too many, considering the American leadership vacuum. Generals follow orders and warriors still die.

Air Force Lt. Col. John Loftis, also victim of Taliban assassins. (Family photo)

The coverage of Afghanistan news continues to be askew. Deaths of Afghan civilians and soldiers, whether from military or terrorist action, are reported under glaring headlines; deaths of Americans often are relegated to the news roundup.

It has been a long war; we are following in the tank ruts left by the Soviet Army, which also found itself in a quagmire! We should have taken the hint, despite the imperatives to invade Afghanistan.

During the Vietnam War American deaths were reported by mainstream media in terms of numbers (now more than 59,000). This may have been a natural response to the Military Assistance Advisory Command, Vietnam (MACV) tactic of touting success on the battlefield by “body count.”

Anti-war activists were appeased and motivated by network evening news and front page newspaper coverage of dead enemy civilians, regardless of cause of death.

The personal face of the American casualty must be borne by the families and communities of these brave young men and women. The nation has become war weary.

Lt. William Calley pardoned by President Nixon for role in My Lai massacre. (Public Domain photo)

On top of the rising American angst, frustration among American soldiers may have manifested itself Sunday when an American Army sergeant apparently had a mental breakdown. The killing spree in a small Afghan village outside Kandahar may soon be compared to an incident March 16, 1968. Villagers in the Vietnamese hamlet My Lai were senselessly massacred by troops under the command of Lt. William Calley.

Both incidents speak to the pressures faced by warriors to survive and win on the battlefield.

Calley, the only conviction among the 25 soldiers charged with the My Lai incident,  muted some of the outrage with his statement, “When my troops were getting massacred and mauled by an enemy I couldn’t see, I couldn’t feel, I couldn’t touch… nobody in the military system ever described them anything other than Communists.”

A protracted legal battle ensued, but Calley remained in quarters at Fort Benning, Columbus, Ga., despite conditional pardon by President Richard Nixon.

President Obama rightfully sent his regrets, apologizing for the killings of the mostly women and children.

 Karzai responded by intimating that more than one shooter may have been involved, inferring that “American forces” entered the victims’ houses.

Air Force security troops pose at perimeter of their remote camp in Helmand Province. (Courtesy Photo)

“This is an assassination,” he proclaimed, “an intentional killing of innocent civilians and cannot be forgiven.”

Karzai insisted the unidentified soldier be turned over to his government for prosecution, but the Army kept him in custody at a NATO facility in Afghanistan. The sergeant was assigned to support a joint forces special operations team.

There was no immediate response from The White House on the deaths of Marchanti and Loftis.  Karzai, however, ordered an investigation on how the Taliban were able to gain access and apparently free movement in the “secure” command center.

NATO commander Gen. John Allen (USMC) withdrew all Americans from Afghan ministries in response to the assassinations.

Marchanti’s and Loftis’ remains were returned to their families through the Dover (Del.) Air Force Base mortuary. Loftis was buried last week near Tampa, Fla.; Marchanti’s services are scheduled Monday in Lutherville, Md.

Maj. Gen. James A. Adkins, commander of the Maryland Army National Guard, said, “The loss of one of our own is always very difficult. Little can be said to ease the pain, but we will always remember Rob’s (Marchanti’s) dedication to our nation as we honor his service and sacrifice.”

Maj. Marchanti at Carney Elementary School, Baltimore County, Md. (William Adey courtesy photo)

A teacher for 18 years, Marchanti was assigned to the 29th Infantry Division’s Security Partnering Team in Kabul. He joined the Army in 1984; the National Guard in 1986. His service with the 29th Division included deployment to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2007. He is survived by his widow, four children and a grandson.

The war began in the quest to root out Osama bin laden, who with his al-Qaida terrorists wreaked havoc on America Sept. 11, 2001. Bin laden is dead; his troops have fled elsewhere in Southwest Asia and the Middle East.

The Taliban, hard core Muslims, brutalized the backward nation for more than six years, but were driven out of power in 2001. Withdrawal of NATO troops is expected to open the door for a new Taliban takeover.

Will we remember the sacrifices of Marchanti, Loftis and their comrades in arms, or will they be lost in the political fog of the Afghan War?

Army patrol seaches for signs of enemy activity outside Kabul. (Courtesy photo)

Many foresee that history will not treat America, its military leadership, or President Obama kindly in the prosecution of this war.  With allies like Hamid Karzai, victory becomes even more elusive.

We have seen this before!–©NORMAN M. COVERT 2012

(Editor’s Note: Services for Major William Marchanti, II, will include visitation Sunday March 18, from 4-9 p.m. at 2012 at Trinity Assembly of God Church, 2122 West Joppa Road, Lutherville. According to the funeral home, family and friends are urged to be at the church before 10:30 a.m. Monday March 19, prior to the military honor guard presentation.)

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This is published simultaneously at www.thetentacle.com with permission of the author, The Covert Letter and The Octopus, LLC.

You may contact Norman Covert at nmcovert@thecovertletter.com