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As America’s longest war drags on, and on, and on…. the two operative phrases seem to be “ still a long way to go” and “taking longer than expected.” In Marjah (McChrystal’s “bleeding ulcer”):

“Residents of this onetime Taliban sanctuary see signs that the insurgents have regained momentum in recent weeks, despite early claims of success by U.S. Marines. The longer-than-expected effort to secure Marja is prompting alarm among top American commanders that they will not be able to change the course of the war in the time President Obama has given them.”

In the time President Obama has given them or ever, it appears.

“We’ve come a long way,” said Lt. Col. Cal Worth, the commander of one of the two Marine infantry battalions in Marja. “But there’s still a long way to go.”

In Kandahar:

“On Thursday, during a visit to NATO headquarters here, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal admitted that preparations for perhaps the most critical operation of the war — the campaign to take control of Kandahar, the Taliban’s birthplace — weren’t going as planned. He said winning support from local leaders, some of whom see the Taliban fighters not as oppressors but as their Muslim brothers, was proving tougher than expected. The military side of the campaign, originally scheduled to surge in June and finish by August, is now likely to extend into the fall.”

There’s also some backpedaling on the importance of Kandahar:

“In March, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, described Kandahar as Afghanistan’s “center of gravity” and the key to reversing the Taliban’s momentum this year, Obama’s goal when he ordered the troop surge in December.

But Gates on Wednesday made clear he believed Kandahar was one part of the equation.

“Kandahar and Helmand are important but they are not the only provinces in Afghanistan that matter in terms of the outcome of this struggle,” he said.”

“Only one part of the equation?” Derrick Crowe at Newshoggers has this chart from the Pentagon’s most recent Afghanistan report to Congress:

So which is it? Meanwhile the casualties mount, 23 Americans killed so far this month. And suicide and attempted suicide rates in every branch of the military are at all-time highs.

How much longer? How much more blood and treasure are we going to pour into this Graveyard of Empires? How long before we realize that this country that’s not really a country but just an area on the map with lines drawn around it is an unwinnable, unfixable quagmire? How long before we stop repeating history and learn from it?

Nobody seems to know.