The US is out of both wars it was in when Barack Obama first took office–ask anyone on the street. But you’ll get a different answer if you happen to query the spouse or parent of one of the approximately 37,500 American soldiers that remain in Afghanistan fighting. These in-country soldiers are part of the international combat mission that isn’t scheduled to end until later this year, when the American presence will drop to a number currently being debated. The adjective in front of mission is still combat. American troops are still fighting in a war that the administration generally portrays as ended. And the current number of troops is still more than a third of the 100,000 troop peak reached in 2012. As a January 2014 Congressional Research Service report by International Security Specialist Catherine Dale begins: “This is a critical time for U.S. efforts in the war in Afghanistan.” That time being right now. At least four American soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since January 10. American civilians have been attacked and killed too, in the capital of Kabul.
It’s a quiet fact that American troops are all over the globe. It gets loud for a media minute or two when someone like Ron Paul laments it (and gets his numbers wrong), but then most Americans get back to their business vaguely believing that the military–an increasingly isolated sector of American society–is taking a rest between battles, having exited Iraq and Afghanistan–and avoided, so far, engaging in Iran or Syria. By some counts, more than 150,000 American military personnel are stationed in more than 140 countries. They’re not fighting in those places–and only 11 countries, out of the 195 sovereign states on Earth, have more than 1,000 US troops. Most of the US presence looks more like Slovenia, for instance, which had nine US active duty military personnel in 2011 (what do they do, one can’t help but wonder?). But not in Afghanistan: that war is still being fought, and by Americans.
–For a full accounting of American military scope, visit the site of the Under Secretary for Defense Acquisition.