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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

If the trend holds, there soon will be a shelf of books explaining why the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan was a misadventure or worse.

Into that crowded field comes Graeme Smith’s The Dogs are Eating Them Now: Our War in Afghanistan. But even among tomes of pessimism and clear-eyed hindsight, Smith’s book seems destined to be a standout: a compelling, self-revealing account of a reporter coming to grips with a big story and his own feelings of shock and disappointment.

Smith, a Canadian, is an anomaly among war reporters. His primary focus is neither the Western troops in the field nor the politicians in Kabul and Washington. Between 2005 and 2011, he did 17 stints in Kandahar in the southern region, long a Taliban stronghold. His goal was to get to know the region and its people, from poppy farmers to assorted crooks and killers.

How many other reporters, on a trip home, go shopping to buy a present for a warlord?

“I wandered for hours, wondering what I could give a guy who already has his own personal army.” Answer: a wristwatch.

Smith arrived in Kandahar full of optimism and a sense of the “nobility” of the mission to oust the Taliban. He admits that at first being in a war zone provided a kind of coyote-howling fun.

“This was a place where a guy could … belch when he wanted, and in some ways behave more naturally than is usually allowed,” he writes. “My mouth tasted awful, and my combat pants grew crusted with rings of salt from days of accumulated sweat, but it felt like an adventure.”

In the beginning he followed Canadian troops for his newspaper, the Globe and Mail. On repeated trips back to Kandahar he began to explore, among other things, the condition of prisoners in Afghan jails where brutality was common and Western officers — often Canadian — looked away and pretended not to know what was happening.

“Over and over, in separate conversations, the men [former prisoners] described how the international troops tied their hands with plastic straps, covered their eyes and handed them over to [Afghan] torturers. They described beatings, whippings, starvation, choking and electrocution.”

Smith wrote about torture for his newspaper, careful to report only those cases that could be documented: “One prisoner, for instance, said he was shoved into a wooden box and tormented with boiling water; I didn’t publish that anecdote in the newspaper because I couldn’t cross reference it.”

Western officials were insisting that the mission of bringing stability to Kandahar was succeeding. Smith found the opposite: Taliban assassination squads “behaved with terrible efficiency and usually without attracting much notice. We never heard of any arrests.”

Smith’s tone is unflinching; a reporter who has spent considerable time and effort on the story, he has the on-the-ground facts and sees no need to lard it up with advocacy or suppositions. He spent time with Afghan provincial officials, finding some honest, some not, and quite a few somewhere in the middle.

“Dogs” is not primarily a look at military tactics, but it touches on what, in hindsight, may loom large in any explanation of why the mission to win the support of Afghan civilians failed: tension between U.S. forces and their NATO allies.

Tension between coalition partners is not new — even in World War II there was Patton versus Montgomery, Eisenhower versus De Gaulle, etc. But Smith suggests that in fighting an insurgency, different methods used by coalition troops worked at cross-purposes, with some troops kicking in doors at night, others taking tea with tribal leaders during the day.

“All too often, the Europeans viewed the Americans as trigger-happy cowboys, while the U.S. soldiers saw their counterparts as weak and useless,” he notes. “Being hated by the Americans somehow made me loved by the British. The world’s greatest military alliance was clearly dysfunctional.”

Although Smith treads lightly on providing strategy advice, he also avoids the tendency to tally up heroes, villains and victims and call it a day. He currently lives in Kabul, a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group think tank. He has at least limited confidence that the Afghan security forces, bolstered by “a healthy budget from foreign donors,” may succeed in keeping the Taliban at bay:

“Perhaps the war will be finished for many U.S. troops,” he writes, “but the fight is far from settled. Afghanistan was an unsuccessful laboratory for ideas about how to fix a ruined country.”

Poll: Most Parents Oppose Rapid School Reopening

Numerous local school systems around the country are plowing ahead with plans to resume in-person instruction despite growing evidence that children are just as capable of spreading the coronavirus as adults.

Classes were set to begin on Monday in Baker County, Florida. Masks for students will be optional, not required. "It looks like it's back to normal this morning, honestly," a local television reporter observed as parents dropped their kids off in the morning. Many students wore no face coverings.

The Trump administration and the GOP have pushed for full reopening of schools for months."Schools in our country should be opened ASAP," Donald Trump tweeted in May. "Much very good information now available."

"SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!" he reiterated on July 6.

"The science and data is clear: children can be safe in schools this fall, and they must be in school this fall," demanded Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) on Aug. 1.

"I believe our schools can, and should rise to the occasion of re-opening for in-person education this fall," agreed Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) two days later.

"The CDC and Academy of Pediatrics agree: We can safely get students back in classrooms," tweeted House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) last Tuesday.

But while Scalise, Mike Pence, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have all cited the American Academy of Pediatrics in their arguments for reopening, a new study by the group and the Children's Hospital Association raises red flags about how safe that will be.

Their report found 338,982 reported coronavirus cases in children as of July 30 in the United States. Between July 16 and July 30, the nation saw a 40% increase — 97,078 new infected children.

Last week, a high school student in an Atlanta suburb posted a photo online showing few students wearing masks in a crowded school hallway. Since that time, at least six students and three adult employees in the school have reportedly contracted the coronavirus, and the school temporarily has switched to online classes.

Another Georgia school district has already seen at least 13 students and staff members test positive since reopening a week ago.

A recent study in South Korea found that children aged ten and older spread the coronavirus at the same rates adults do. A separate study in Chicago suggested young kids might also be effective spreaders.

These contradict the false claims made by Trump and his administration that kids have an "amazing" near immunity to COVID-19.

"If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say definitely, but almost immune from this disease, so few. They've got stronger, hard to believe, and I don't know how you feel about it, but they have much stronger immune systems than we do somehow for this," Trump told Fox News on Wednesday.

"You got to open the schools. They have a stronger immune system even than you have or I have," he told Barstool Sports on July 23. "It's amazing. You look at the percentage, it's a tiny percentage of one percent. And in that one case, I mean, I looked at a couple of cases. If you have diabetes, if you have, you know, problems with something, but the kids are in great shape." Children have made up nearly nine percent of all cases, even with schools mostly closed.

And DeVos incorrectly said in a July 16 interview, "More and more studies show that kids are actually stoppers of the disease and they don't get it and transmit it themselves."

In early July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines for how schools could operate more safely during the pandemic.

Trump publicly ridiculed the guidelines, dismissing them as "very tough & expensive" and "very impractical."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.