Democracy Now reports [h/t Glinda]
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has announced the last of the more than 30,000 troops that entered Afghanistan following President Obama’s orders for a surge in 2009 have now left the country. Panetta claimed the surge had accomplished its mission of curbing the Taliban’s momentum and bolstering Afghan security forces. Nearly 70,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan amidst ongoing violence there, including an uptick in so-called green-on-blue attacks by Afghan forces against foreign troops.
So, the number of troops officially left in Afghanistan pretty much matches the number of special ops forces, 66,000, who could be anywhere in the world. But who's counting? Certainly not the American people, who by definition are left in the dark--most Americans think of the Green Berets, Navy Seals, Army Rangers et al as superheroes deserving the same respect for privacy as Clark Kent. USSOCOM may as well be the president's private army, because secrecy keeps them completely shielded from democratic control, or in the words of Andrew Bacevich
Employing USSOCOM as your own private military means never having to say you're sorry.
If all of them are in Afghanistan, then there are actually twice as many troops there as reported, but most likely some are in Pakistan, some in Syria, Libya, various other African and Asian countries, including a recent foray into North Korea. Even Mexico has been visited secretly. No one--ally, enemy, or neutral--is exempt from them. Some estimates have U.S. special ops forces in 120 counties. We really don't know. Meet the new U.S. Army, in which we the people don't need to know a damn thing about what they're doing. It makes the old-fashioned congressional declarations of war more quaint than ever.
Yet when it comes to military policy, the Obama administration's success in shutting down wars conducted in plain sight tells only half the story, and the lesser half at that. More significant has been this president's enthusiasm for instigating or expanding secret wars, those conducted out of sight and by commandos.
John F. Kennedy famously gave the Green Berets their distinctive headgear. Obama has endowed the whole special operations "community" with something less decorative but far more important: privileged status that provides special operators with maximum autonomy while insulating them from the vagaries of politics, budgetary or otherwise. Congress may yet require the Pentagon to undertake some (very modest) belt-tightening, but one thing's for sure: No one is going to tell USSOCOM to go on a diet. What the special ops types want, they will get, with few questions asked—and virtually none of those few posed in public.
This cultural transformation has important political implications. It represents the ultimate manifestation of the abyss now separating the military and society. . . . As one consequence, the American people have forfeited owner's rights over their army, having less control over the employment of US forces than New Yorkers have over the management of the Knicks or Yankees.
In short, handing war to the special operators severs an already too tenuous link between war and politics; it becomes war for its own sake. Remember George W. Bush's "Global War on Terror"? Actually, his war was never truly global. War waged in a special-operations-first world just might become truly global—and never-ending....
Also missing from the official 70,000 count are private contractors and mercenaries, yet another method through which the public debate necessary for functioning democracy is subverted:
More civilian contractors working for American companies than American soldiers died in Afghanistan last year for the first time during the war.
American employers here are under no obligation to publicly report the deaths of their employees and frequently do not. While the military announces the names of all its war dead, private companies routinely notify only family members. Most of the contractors die unheralded and uncounted — and in some cases, leave their survivors uncompensated.
... There were 113,491 employees of defense contractors in Afghanistan as of January 2012, compared with about 90,000 American soldiers, according to Defense Department statistics. Of those, 25,287, or about 22 percent of the employees, were American citizens, with 47 percent Afghans and 31 percent from other countries.
Yet another example of an official pronouncement of the USG describing a fairy tale reality intended to sooth the American public while covering over the much more complex, insidious reality.