KABUL, Afghanistan • It was once President Barack Obama's "war of necessity." Now, it's America's forgotten war.
The Afghan conflict generates barely a whisper on the U.S. presidential campaign trail. It's not a hot topic at the office water cooler or in the halls of Congress — even though more than 80,000 American troops are still fighting here and dying at a rate of one a day.
Americans show more interest in the economy and taxes than the latest suicide bombings in a different, distant land. They're more tuned in to the political ad war playing out on television than the deadly fight still raging against the Taliban. This month, protesters at the Iowa State Fair chanted "Stop the war!" They were referring to one purportedly being waged against the middle class.
By the time voters go to the polls Nov. 6 to choose between Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, the war will be in its 12th year. For most Americans, that's long enough.
Public opinion remains largely negative toward the war, with 66 percent opposed to it and just 27 percent in favor in an AP-GfK poll from May. More recently, a Quinnipiac University poll found that 60 percent of registered voters felt the U.S. should no longer be involved in Afghanistan. Just 31 percent said the U.S. is doing the right thing by fighting there.
Not since the Korean War of the early 1950s — a much shorter but more intense fight — has an armed conflict involving America's sons and daughters captured so little public attention.
"We're bored with it," said Matthew Farwell, who served in the Army for five years — including 16 months in eastern Afghanistan, where he sometimes received letters from grade school students mistakenly addressed to the brave Marines in Iraq.
"We all laugh about how no one really cares," he said. "All the 'support the troops' stuff is bumper sticker deep."
Farwell, 29, who is studying at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, said the war is rarely a topic of conversation on campus — and he isn't surprised that it's not discussed much on the campaign trail.
"No one understands how to extricate ourselves from the mess we have made there," he said. "So from a purely political point of view, I wouldn't be talking about it if I were Barack Obama or Mitt Romney either."
Ignoring the war in Afghanistan, though, doesn't make it go away.
More than 1,950 Americans have died in Afghanistan, and thousands more have been wounded since President George W. Bush launched attacks on Oct. 7, 2001, to rout al-Qaida after it used Afghanistan to train recruits and plot the Sept. 11 attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 Americans.
The war drags on even though al-Qaida has been largely driven out of Afghanistan and its charismatic leader Osama bin Laden is dead — slain in a U.S. raid on his Pakistani hideout last year.
Strangely, Afghanistan never seemed to grab the same degree of public and media attention as the war in Iraq, which Obama opposed as a "war of choice."
Unlike Iraq, victory in Afghanistan seemed to come quickly. Kabul fell within weeks of the U.S. invasion in October 2001. The hardline Taliban regime was toppled with few U.S. casualties.
But the Bush administration's shift toward war with Iraq left the Western powers without enough resources on the ground, so by 2006 the Taliban had regrouped into a serious military threat.
Candidate Obama promised to refocus America's resources on Afghanistan. But by the time President Obama sent 33,000 more troops to Afghanistan in December 2009, years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan had drained Western resources and sapped resolve to build a viable Afghan state.
And over time, his administration has grown weary of trying to tackle Afghanistan's seemingly intractable problems of poverty and corruption. The American people have grown weary too.
While most Americans are sympathetic to the plight of the Afghan people, they have become deeply skeptical of President Hamid Karzai's willingness to tackle corruption and political patronage and the coalition's chances of "budging a medieval society" into the modern world, says Ann Marlowe, a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute, a policy research organization in Washington.
"With millions of veterans home and talking with their families and friends ... some knowledge of just how hard this is has percolated down," said Marlowe, who has traveled to Afghanistan many times.
Also to be considered is that the U.S.-led coalition's combat mission will soon wind down. By the end of 2014, most international troops will have left or moved into support roles. Chanting "out of Afghanistan" is not as dramatic when the administration has already made that move.
general's plane hit
An insurgent rocket attack damaged the plane of the top U.S. general as it sat parked at a coalition base near Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday, dealing another blow to the image of progress in building a stable country as foreign forces work to wind down the 10-year-old war.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the two rockets that landed near the C-17 transport plane that Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived on a day earlier. The claim was an attempt by the insurgents to score more propaganda points in what has been a deadly few weeks for the international coalition in Afghanistan.
Jamie Graybeal, a spokesman for the U.S. military and the international coalition, said Dempsey was in his staff quarters when the two rockets landed and was unhurt in the attack.
Damage to the plane forced Dempsey to use another aircraft for his flight from Bagram airfield to Iraq on Tuesday.