Two days after the emergence of a video depicting the beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley by so-called Islamic State militants, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called a press conference to warn reporters that ISIL is “beyond anything we’ve ever seen.” The candor and urgency of his remarks contrasted with a four-sentence Department of Defense news release posted only a few hours prior. The release noted that Sergeant 1st Class Matthew Leggett had been killed in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 20, after being “engaged by the enemy.” Kabul police offered a more vivid account: as Leggett crossed a busy Kabul road to help escort his convoy, a Taliban operative slit his throat.
As the Pentagon explores all options short of “boots on the ground” for Iraq, little attention is being paid to the boots still on the ground in Afghanistan, even as weekly losses continue – including the recent loss of Major General Harold Greene, the highest ranking U.S. officer killed in combat since Vietnam. Hagel vowed in his press conference to “take a cold, steely, hard look” at the ISIL threat, but the strategic assessment for Afghanistan, where the Taliban kills aid workers and journalists on a monthly basis, seems to have concluded last May with a Rose Garden statement by President Barack Obama. “[T]his is how wars end in the 21st century,” he noted, as he stressed a “narrow mission” focused on “the remnants of al Qaeda.”