The nation was reminded again over the weekend of the terrible price it is paying in Afghanistan and of the dangers that still lie ahead. Saturday's insurgent attack on an American helicopter, which killed 30 U.S. troops, was the deadliest day for the United States in the 10-year-old war. Even as America embarks on a timetable for winding down the war, its troops are on the front lines every day. And they are facing greater risks as the United States prepares to hand over security and an uncertain future to the Afghan government and its people.
The Pentagon said insurgents firing a rocket-propelled grenade downed the Chinook, killing 22 elite Navy SEALs and eight Air Force and Army troops, along with seven Afghan commandos and an Afghan interpreter. The group was a rapid-reaction force responding to a call for help from a unit of Army Rangers, who had come under fire while pursuing a Taliban leader who was behind a series of roadside bomb attacks against U.S. and NATO forces.
The devastating loss of life, on a single day and in a single incident, captures the risks that American soldiers continue to confront after a decade of war. For all of the allies' success in routing al-Qaida and the Taliban and laying the foundation for a strong, central government, the security situation is tenuous in Afghanistan's provincial areas. Corruption, incompetence and attrition in the security forces, tribal conflicts and weak legal and social institutions continue to act as roadblocks to Afghan self-governance.
In his remarks from the White House Monday, President Barack Obama made a point of highlighting that Afghan troops also lost their lives on the helicopter Saturday. Afghans are taking on more responsibility for themselves. But Americans also are assuming greater dangers by focusing on high-risk operations against terrorist leaders in dug-in mountaintop hideouts. For U.S. commandos especially, the war is a daily call to duty — and the danger is ramping up.
The families of those killed Saturday have talked with pride about the fellowship their loved ones had with their compatriots in uniform. The government in Kabul needs to foster that same sense of unity by giving Afghans a sense of ownership in their country's future. But make no mistake: There are dangerous days ahead for American troops. The best way to honor those risks is for those on the political side to show courage of their own in building an Afghanistan that does justice to those who died for it.