Baby Steps Toward Stability in Afghanistan

Baby Steps Toward Stability in Afghanistan

Four days after Taliban officials abruptly closed a key border crossing with Pakistan, the two countries worked out an agreement to reopen it.

Torkham, one of several crossings on the nearly 2,600-kilometer frontier separating the two countries, was closed by the Taliban on Sunday, accusing Pakistani immigration authorities of “misbehaving” with Afghan travelers, including those seeking medical care in Pakistan. Isalmaba countered with complaints about lax security at the crossing.

Sources described the discussions in Kabul as productive and said, without elaborating, the Taliban also shared details of some of their actions against the Taliban in Pakistan and promised to do more.

“Both sides agreed to strengthen bilateral cooperation in various fields to further enhance the fraternal relations between the two countries,” the two sides said in a joint statement.

Afghanistan War

If the Taliban can work out its differences with its neighbors, maybe there is hope for stability in Afghanistan, and the country can finally start putting the war behind it.

Ground Zero in New York was still smoldering when the U.S. and its allies invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 after Taliban leaders refused to hand over Osama bin Laden. U.S. troops, along with Northern Alliance rebels, quickly seized major population centers and forced bin Laden into exile in Pakistan.

In 2003, with the UN’s blessing, then-President George W. Bush launched an ongoing security mission that aimed to create a stable democracy in Afghanistan that would keep the Taliban out of power. 

That seemed like a solid plan. If you have weeds in your yard, and you water and fertilize the grass, the grass will choke out the weeds. An interim Afghan administration oversaw rebuilding projects across the country, once again mostly in populated urban areas.

Afghanistan does not have a whole lot of densely populated urban areas. Faithful Muslim subsistence farmers and ranchers in remote parts of the country resented the infidel invaders and remained loyal to the Taliban.

By 2003, the Taliban, reinvigorated under their founder Mullah Omar, began a widespread insurgency against the new Afghan government and coalition forces. Insurgents from the Taliban and other Islamist groups fought a guerilla war in the countryside, staged suicide attacks in large towns, and killed suspected collaborators and informants across the country. The campaign worked, at least temporarily. By 2007, the Taliban had retaken large parts of Afghanistan.

Back and forth we went. In response to this offensive, the coalition sent a major influx of troops for counter-insurgency operations, using a “clear and hold” strategy in towns, villages, and other occupied areas. This influx peaked in 2011 when roughly 140,000 foreign troops were operating under coalition command across the war-torn country.

After American covert operatives killed bin Laden in a 2011 raid, coalition forces began making an exit strategy. In 2014, NATO terminated its command and handed over operations to the Afghan government. But the war doesn’t end just because one side goes home. Fighting dragged on, as did the attempts to find a diplomatic solution. An agreement seemed to be in place in 2021, but the Afghans backed out at the last minute.

In hindsight, that was a bad move. Predictably and understandably, the U.S. lost the will to fight. So, the Taliban launched a broad offensive throughout the summer of 2021, successfully reestablishing their control over most of the country, including the capital city of Kabul. 

The last few dominoes fell quickly. Ashraf Ghani, the last president of the Islamic Republic, went into exile, the last few Americans were right behind him, the Taliban declared victory, and the war was officially over.

Latent Wartime Injuries

The Afghanistan War (2001-2021) was the longest war in United States history. It was six months longer than the Vietnam War (1955-1975). It may be another 20 years or even longer before the casualty figures are clear because of latent wartime injuries.

Toxic Exposure

Throughout most of those 20 years, U.S. bases used open-air waste disposal pits, known as burn pits. As metal vehicle parts, rubber tires, plastic water bottles, Styrofoam cups, and who knows what else burned, toxic smoke billowed throughout these facilities.

Doctors have connected this toxic smoke with a number of severe chronic illnesses, including brain cancer and constrictive bronchiolitis. These diseases are usually fatal. However, symptoms of cancer and severe breathing diseases may not appear for many years.

In 2022, lawmakers finally forced the Veterans Administration to acknowledge and pay some burn pit health claims. The Department of Labor, which administers the Defense Base Act, was way ahead of the curve. Contractors had been eligible for burn pit benefits for several years. More on the Defense Base Act below.


Brain injuries like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder do not take as long as cancer and CB to develop. But brain injuries are not apparent overnight, either. That is mostly because doctors and patients often dismiss initial symptoms.

When returning contractors complain of headaches, flashbacks, depression, and other such symptoms, many doctors assume they are simply having a hard time adjusting back to civilian life. In other words, it is just a phase.

Doctors should not bear all the blame for brain injury misdiagnosis. The brain usually conceals its own injuries. So, when patients report their symptoms to their doctors, they often underestimate those symptoms. As a result, a doctor must base a diagnosis on inaccurate information.

Incidentally, you read that first paragraph right. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a physical brain injury. Combat stress triggers chemical changes in the brain, which cause the aforementioned symptoms.

On a related note, CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) could be an issue as well. Multiple concussions cause symptoms that are even worse than any kind of PTSD. No one is sure how many concussions trigger CTE. It could be one or two or 10 or 20.

Repetitive Stress

Many private military contractors must bend, stoop, reach, and kneel pretty much all day, every day. Knees, ankles, shoulders, and other joints can only take so much stress. Soon, these joints start wearing out, forcing victims to live with a permanent loss of motion or roll the dice on a risky operation.

Most of these victims do not realize anything is wrong until after they come home. They associate muscle and joint soreness with a long day at the office. When that pain continues after the job ends, they know something is wrong.

DBA benefits are usually available in these situations, even if a non-work or pre-existing condition contributed to the likelihood or severity of the injury. If Sally has a bad hip and her job as a private military contractor made it worse, she’s usually eligible for full financial benefits. 

Injury Compensation Available

Most of these injuries are treatable or at least manageable. But injury treatment and management are not cheap. Most private military contractors were non-employees, which means they usually do not have health insurance benefits.

DBA medical payment benefits are available in these cases. Usually, the DBA insurance company must pay all reasonable necessary medical bills, from the first moment of emergency care to the last day of physical therapy.

This category includes ancillary expenses, like transportation costs, medical devices, and prescription drugs. In many cases, these ancillary costs exceed the initial hospital bill. That is especially true if, as is usually the case, the victim requires lifelong drug, physical therapy, and other treatments.

There is more good news for these victims. The DBA lets most victims choose their own doctors. So, instead of getting the care an insurance adjuster is willing to pay for, they get the care they need. Additionally, if the insurance company drags its feet settling the case, a DBA lawyer usually convinces doctors to defer billing, or at least collection, until the case is resolved.

For more information about DBA eligibility, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.