This piece was originally published at TomDispatch.
Have you ever thought about just how strange this country’s version of "normal" truly is? Let me make my point with a single, hardly noticed Washington Post news story that’s been on my mind for a while. It represents the sort of reporting that, in our world, zips by with next to no reaction, despite the true weirdness buried in it.
The piece by Craig Whitlock appeared on June 19 and was headlined, "US military criticized for purchase of Russian copters for Afghan air corps." Maybe that’s strange enough for you right there. Russian copters? Of course, we all know, at least vaguely, that by year’s end US spending on its protracted Afghan war and nation-building project will be heading for $350 billion dollars. And, of course, those dollars do have to go somewhere.
Admittedly, these days in parts of the United States, state and city governments are having a hard time finding the money just to pay teachers or the police. The Pentagon, on the other hand, hasn’t hesitated to use at least $25–27 billion to "train" and "mentor" the Afghan military and police—and after each round of training failed to produce the expected results, to ask for even more money, and train them again. That includes the Afghan National Army Air Corps which, in the Soviet era of the 1980s, had nearly 500 aircraft and a raft of trained pilots. The last of that air force—little used in the Taliban era—was destroyed in the US air assault and invasion of 2001. As a result, the "Afghan air force" (with about 50 helicopters and transport planes) is now something of a misnomer, since it is, in fact, the US Air Force.
Still, there are a few Afghan pilots, mostly in their forties, trained long ago on Russian Mi-17 transport helicopters, and it’s on a refurbished version of these copters, Whitlock tells us, that the Pentagon has already spent $648 million. The Mi-17 was specially built for Afghanistan’s difficult flying environment back when various Islamic jihadists, some of whom we’re now fighting under the rubric of "the Taliban," were allied with us against the Russians.