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War-weary US is numbed to drumbeat of troop deaths in Afghanistan

Each week at war has a certain sameness for those not fighting in Afghanistan. Yet every week brings sorrow to those who learn that a son or daughter, brother or sister, was killed or wounded.

By Robert BurnsAssociated Press / September 9, 2012

Army soldiers carry the remains of Pfc. Shane W. Cantu of Corunna, Mich., at Dover Air Force Base, Del. Pfc. Cantu, who deployed to Afghanistan this summer, was among five U.S. deaths announced this past week.

Luis M. Alvarez/AP

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WASHINGTON

It was another week at war in Afghanistan, another string of American casualties, and another collective shrug by a nation weary of a faraway conflict whose hallmark is its grinding inconclusiveness.

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After nearly 11 years, many by now have grown numb to the sting of losing soldiers like Pfc. Shane W. Cantu of Corunna, Mich. He died of shrapnel wounds in the remoteness of eastern Afghanistan, not far from the getaway route that Osama bin Laden took when U.S. forces invaded after Sept. 11, 2001, and began America's longest war.

Cantu was 10 back then.

Nearly every day the Pentagon posts another formulaic death notice, each one brief and unadorned, revealing the barest of facts – name, age and military unit – but no words that might capture the meaning of the loss.

Cantu, who joined the Italy-based 173rd Airborne Brigade on Sept. 11 last year and went to Afghanistan last month, was among five U.S. deaths announced this past week, as the Democrats and Republicans wrapped up back-to-back presidential nominating conventions.

PHOTOS: Inside Afghanistan: Remnants of America's longest war

American troops are still dying in Afghanistan at a pace that doesn't often register beyond their hometowns. So far this year, it's 31 a month on average, or one per day. National attention is drawn, briefly, to grim and arbitrary milestones such as the 1,000th and 2,000th war deaths. But days, weeks and months pass with little focus by the general public or its political leaders on the individuals behind the statistics.

Each week at war has a certain sameness for those not fighting it, yet every week brings distinct pain and sorrow to the families who learn that their son or daughter, brother or sister, father or mother was killed or wounded.

Cantu died Aug. 28, but the Pentagon did not publicly release his name until Wednesday. He was memorialized by his paratrooper "sky soldier" comrades in Italy on Thursday and honored in his hometown of Corunna, where the high school football coach, Mike Sullivan, was quoted in local news reports as saying the energetic and athletic Cantu had been "the toughest kid I've ever coached — ever known."

He would have turned 21 next month.

His roommate in Afghanistan, Pfc. Cameron Richards, 23, remembers Cantu as a larger-than-life figure, a guy with an infectious smile who took pride in whipping up spaghetti, tacos and other dinners on his portable skillet. It was a knack he attributed to having grown up with five sisters with whom he shared family meal duties.

"He was the type of person you wanted to be around every day," Richards said in a telephone interview Friday from the brigade's headquarters in Italy, where he returned after being wounded by shrapnel from a hand grenade two weeks before Cantu was killed.

"When he was in the room you knew he was in the room. He'd be the loudest one laughing," he added. "He impacted everybody."

As the war drags on, it remains a faraway puzzle for many Americans. Max Boot, a military historian and defense analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations, has called Afghanistan the "Who Cares?" war. "Few, it seems, do, except for service personnel and their families," he wrote recently. "It is almost as if the war isn't happening at all."

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