Soldiers from the 1-118th Field Artillery Regiment of the 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team fire an M777 Howitzer during a fire mission in Southern Afghanistan, June 10th, 2019. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jordan Trent)

Once again, the United States and the Taliban are apparently close to striking a peace deal. Such a peace agreement has been rumored to be in the works longer than the latest "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" sequel. (The difference is Keanu Reeves has fewer f**ks to give than U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.)

Both sides appeared to be close to reaching an agreement in September until the Taliban took credit for an attack that killed Army Sgt. 1st Class Elis A. Barreto Ortiz, of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. That prompted President Donald Trump to angrily cancel a planned summit with the Taliban that had been scheduled to take place at Camp David, Maryland, on Sept. 8.

Now Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen has told a Pakistani newspaper that he is "optimistic" that the Taliban could reach an agreement with U.S. negotiators by the end of January.

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The 35th commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James F. Amos, the 17th sergeant major of the Marine Corps, Sgt. Maj. Micheal P. Barrett, and their staff, board a Ch-53 Sea Stallion helicopter at Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Nov. 24, 2011. (U.S. Marine Corps/Sgt. Mallory S. VanderSchans)

U.S. government officials have a "disincentive" to tell the truth about the situation in Afghanistan, said John Sopko, the blunt-spoken special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction.

"We have created an incentive to almost require people to lie," Sopko told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

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Despite revelations that top U.S. officials have known for years that a military victory in Afghanistan was not possible, the U.S. troops who killed fighting there did not die in vain, said Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"I could not look myself in the mirror," Miley said during a Pentagon news briefing on Friday. "I couldn't answer myself at 2 or 3 in the morning when my eyes pop open and see the dead roll in front of my eyes. So, no: I don't think anyone has died in vain, per se."

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Navy Petty Officer First Class Michael J. Strange

PHILADELPHIA — It would not be accurate to say that Charles Strange felt a surge of anger when he read a newspaper report this week of evidence that U.S. military leaders misled the public about the war in Afghanistan.

No, for the Montgomery County father, the anger's always there, like a tiny earthquake rumbling below the surface. The intensity changes daily, but it never really goes away.

It's been more than eight years since his son, Navy Petty Officer First Class Michael J. Strange, was killed alongside 29 other U.S. soldiers and eight Afghan security forces on America's deadliest day of the war in Afghanistan. The crew, which included the 25-year-old Michael, were killed when Taliban fighters shot down their helicopter, Extortion 17, while they were carrying out a mission in a valley southwest of Kabul on Aug. 6, 2011.

Michael was a cryptologist and part of the elite Navy SEAL Team 6, the unit responsible for killing Osama bin Laden. At his core, though, he was a Wissinoming native, a graduate of North Catholic High School, and a "Philly boy" through-and-through.

This week, Charles Strange and his wife, Mary Ann, Michael's stepmother, sat in their home in Hatboro, parsing through the Washington Post's reporting on the Afghanistan Papers, which said what the Strange family has long thought: Military leadership can't always be trusted.

"This is what you get when your son dies: a pin and a flag," he said, his Gold Star pinned to his chest. "And lied to."

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Since the Washington Post first published the "Afghanistan papers," I have been reminded of a scene from "Apocalypse Now Redux" in which Army Col. Walter Kurtz reads to the soldier assigned to kill him two Time magazine articles showing how the American people had been lied to about Vietnam by both the Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon administrations.

In one of the articles, a British counterinsurgency expert tells Nixon that "things felt much better and smelled much better" during his visit to Vietnam.

"How do they smell to you, soldier?" Kurtz asks.

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