Più degli abitanti di Portogallo e Belgio sommati…

Secondo ‘The Economist’

Budget battles and a stagnant economy greet America’s soldiers as they return from Iraq and Afghanistan. Around 800,000 vetertans are jobless, 1.4 m live below yhe poverty line, and one in three homeless adult homeless adult men in American is a veteran. Though the overall unemployment rate among America’s 21m veterans in November (7.4%) was lower than the national rate ((8.6%), for vetetrans of Iraq and Afghanistan it was 11.1%. And for veterans between the ages of 18 and 24, it was a staggering 37.9%, up from 30.4% just a month earlier.

Since so many soldiers lack a college degree, the fact that the recession has been particularly hard on the less educated hits veterans disproportionately. Large numbers of young vetetrans work -or worked- in stricken industries such as manufacturing and construction.  More than 1milion  new veterans are expected to join the civilian labour force over the next four years.

And of course it is also occurring in fiscally straitened times, though it looks as though this will affect veterans’ services less than other parts of the federal government. Though there have been some small fee increases for veterans covered by Tricare, the military health-insurance programme, significant cuts to veterans’ benefits are unlikely, and for good reason. Military pay is far from generous, and the benefits are comprehensive but hardly gold-plated or easy to navigate. Not for nothing is a popular online forum for veterans wending their way through the bureaucracy of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) called HadIt.com.

Still, even if services are not cut, they are unlikely to improve as steeply as they did in the last decade, when between 2003 and 2010 the VA’s budget more than doubled. Jeff Miller, who chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee, says he and veterans’ organisations are “in a position of defence” against any potential cuts, and says he worries about the effects of the big and supposedly mandatory defence cuts occasioned by the supercommittee’s failure last month to reach agreement on the deficit. For the next year at least benefits are safe: the VA is funded two years in advance, and after a slight dip from 2010 to 2011, in 2012 its budget will increase.

But its costs are also rising. Despite the influx of young returning soldiers,America’s veteran population, like the general populace, is ageing and living longer: the number of veterans aged 85 or older is forecast to grow by 20% in the next decade. Improvements in military medicine have thankfully reduced mortality rates for soldiers injured inIraqandAfghanistanas compared with battlefield injuries in previous wars, but those soldiers often require specialised, long-term mental and physical care. The VA has done a lot to make access to its services easier, as of course it should, but this has resulted in rising numbers of claims. And then there is the problem of joblessness, which keeps unemployed veterans on VA health care rather than getting it from a private insurance programme offered by an employer, as most Americans do.

A wide array of government programmes have failed to get veterans back to work. The Post-9/11 GI Bill, signed into law by George Bush junior in 2008, has at least helped veterans go back to school: it pays for education and training for all veterans who served more than 90 days in the armed forces afterSeptember 11th 2001. Barack Obama created a Council on Veterans Employment in 2009, and the federal government hired over 70,000 veterans in both 2009 and 2010. On November 21st Mr Obama signed a bill offering tax credits to employers who hire unemployed or disabled veterans. Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, the vice-president’s wife and the stepmother of a soldier, have launched a campaign on behalf of veterans and military families. The Department of Labour offers an online employment service, as well as counselling for veterans at its 3,000 career centres dotted around the country.

Still, commissions, initiatives and incentives can only go so far. The transition from a regimented military life to the unstructured vastness of civilian life is difficult. Susan Hampton, who helps returning veterans at one such centre inCorbin,Kentucky, says that soldiers often have trouble translating their military skills into marketable civilian ones. Besides which, says Glenn Campbell, a Marine veteran who now helps match returning soldiers with employers and job openings in eastern Kentucky, “résumés scare a lot of people”—particularly soldiers, accustomed to being told where to go and what to do, and suddenly having to figure out, rather than being told, what employers want.

Over 2m soldiers served inIraqandAfghanistan. That may sound like a lot, but it accounts for less than 1% of Americans. Many soldiers return to find themselves the only people in their towns or communities who served. Jon Soltz, who spent the last year serving in Iraq as a major advising the Iraqi army and before that headed a left-leaning veterans-advocacy group called Votevets, went to the bank a couple of days after he returned home. He told the teller he no longer lived at the address on file, and had spent the last year inIraq. “She asked me if I was there on vacation…People aren’t going to understand. People aren’t living it. It was a chosen war, and the country was never really engaged in it.” Perhaps. But as unpopular as the war became, at least its opponents have not vented their anger at returning soldiers, as many did afterVietnam. As Mr Campbell notes, “veterans get more honour and respect than anybody” in his part of the world. And that is largely true elsewhere too: returning veterans do have a distracted nation’s gratitude. But gratitude alone never paid a bill.


Estratti dalla cover story

Why the U.S. Will Never Save Afghanistan

(“TIME” Oct.24, 2011)

Despite 10 years of U.S. power, talent and money, Afghanistan is a country of squandered hope

Ten years after the U.S.invaded this long-suffering country and then settled in for a long occupation,Afghanistanis nowhere close to being able to stand on its own- militarily, economically or even politically. To many, it has become an expensive misadventure. Meanwhile, theU.S.keeps broadcasting its intention to leave, recoiling from a problem it seemingly no longer has the will or ability to solve. The prospect is frightening:Afghanistantoday has the potential to be even more destabilizing for the region and the world than it was under the Taliban. Lawlessness has become the rule, so much so that many Afghans have grown nostalgic for the cold but effective dicta of Mullah Mohammed Omar’s theocracy. When the Americans leave, the country could easily revert to the failed narcostate and terrorist training ground that it once was. That alone would be a potent propaganda victory forAmerica’s foes.

The U:S: established over 180 forward operating bases around the country, deployed over 9,000 mine-resistant vehicles and spent a total of $444 billion in the past decade. American best strategists were set to work on one of the largest country-building efforts since the Marshall Plan. And it simply hasn’t worked. The U.N. holds that 2011 is on track to be the most violent since the invasion for Afghan civilians.

The Afghan National Army is judged not on its ability to fight but on the number of recruits trained. The metrics should tell the story of a nation rising from the ashes; the truth is that the country is just steps from the precipice. As attacks on the capital have increased, the economy has nose-dived. The consensus is that the surge has not been the success it was inIraqand that in some ways it has failed as a strategy. Meanwhile, the ever more frequent air strikes and night raids that hit innocent along with insurgents are starting to undercut public support for the foreign forces.

TheU.S.has looked the other way when Afghan government officials, whose salaries are paid by American funds, flagrantly indulge in corruption and graft. The resulting lawlessness has Afghans across a broad spectrum of society waxing nostalgic for the era when a single Talib in the town square would dispense justice with a quote from the Koran and a flick of his lash. “Even as a liberal, I can say that the Taliban time was better” says Gholam Sadiq Niazi, a Soviet-trained technocrat inAfghanistan’s oil and gas industry. Few Afghans today support the wanton violence of the reincarnated Taliban insurgency, and history shows that the Taliban too were no strangers to corruption- but the fact that both women and religious moderate speak well of their reputation for security shows how shallowly rooted the support is for 10 years of Western assistance.

Military officials say things will get worse before they get better and that it will take time for the shaky Afghan forces to find their footing. Meanwhile, the Taliban have taken their campaign of rural intimidation to the cities, where their highly organized, complex suicide attacks undermine whatever  confidence is left. NATO officials blithely assert that the suicide attacks are a sign of desperation, proof that the enemy is no longer capable of mounting a frontal attack. That may be the case, but the Taliban’s ability to recruit volunteers for ‘martyrdom’, as demonstrated by their profligate use of three or four at a time, indicates to me a far more terrifying kind of strength.

Even as the Obama Administration assures the American public that the drawdown of troops is on track,U.S.diplomats and military officials inKabulweave a hopeful narrative of progress. Few of us on the ground see it that way. It used to be that American withdrawal was conditioned on success. Now, it seems, withdrawal has become the definition of success. If that’s the case, success inAfghanistanwill feel a lot like failure.

by Aryn Baker