WASHINGTON - America's "forgotten war" in Afghanistan, is missing in action again, squeezed out of the campaign narrative as President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney duel for the White House.
Americans still die in Afghanistan, 70,000 US troops still serve, civilians are cut down in the crossfire and top US brass says war strategy is under threat from rising insider attacks on NATO troops by Afghans.
But in a race consumed by economics, character attacks and over-hyped gaffes, Arlington National Cemetery's fresh rows of headstones are an afterthought.
In 2004 and 2008, Iraq, and to a lesser extent Afghanistan, were grist for the political battle, but when foreign policy breaks cover in this race, it is Israel, China and Iran which steal the headlines.
Candidates are more likely to prattle on talk shows about what they wear to bed or their favorite sports teams than seek to build a mandate behind a specific war strategy.
Now the last US surge troops have left the war, few congressional or presidential candidates discuss strategy, or question why soldiers must fight for another two years or ask what they will leave behind.
"There hasn't been much of a focus on Afghanistan the focus there has been superficial and lacking specificity," said Paul Rieckhoff, an army veteran and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
Presidential "candidates have an obligation to remind the American public about the cost of war and at the same time to enlist them to help those who have shouldered that burden," he said. Romney did not even mention Afghanistan, where more than 2,000 Americans have died and thousands have been maimed, in his speech at the Republican National Convention.
The war surely burns the conscience of Obama, who signs condolence letters to relatives of the fallen and is responsible for its painful progress. But after vowing to fix a "war of necessity" in 2008, he now only mentions the conflict and its veterans in passing on the campaign trail, though he has fought for jobs and health care for soldiers who came home.
"Four years ago, I promised to end the war in Iraq, and I did," Obama said at a rally in Virginia last Friday. "I said we'd wind down the war in Afghanistan, and we are."
"When our troops come home and take off their uniform, we will serve them as well as they've served us." Why is war talk so absent? One answer: neither candidate sees it bringing any political gain.
"To the extent that we are waging this war without a public debate, I think that is a mistake," said Stephen Biddle. (AFP)