Record casualties in Afghanistan: Can we bear them?
A helicopter crash in southern Afghanistan Tuesday killed nine NATO troops, and brought the total coalition deaths to 529 for 2010 -- exceeding last year's record total of 521, according to icasualties.org. That news is certainly sobering -- and it will provide more fodder for the growing "this war is lost" chorus in Washington.
But it is also worth putting into perspective. A look at the numbers shows that while U.S. and allied military casualties have risen in the past two years as more troops have surged into the country, they are still far below the levels of the war in Iraq at its peak -- not to speak of Vietnam, where more American soldiers died in one month than during nine years of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Up until Tuesday, 2,097 coalition soldiers in all, including 1,289 U.S. troops, had been killed in the Afghanistan war. That compares with 4,739 military deaths in Iraq, including 4,421 Americans. For four grim years between 2004 and 2007, U.S. death totals in Iraq ranged between 897 and a peak of 961, in 2007. But so far this year only 51 Americans have been killed there. So even with the increased violence in Afghanistan, U.S. troops stationed overseas are seeing fewer casualties than during the most intense years of the Iraq war.
Some other comparisons: On June 6, 1944, 4,400 allied soldiers, including 2,500 Americans, were killed in the D-day landings in France. And 2,936 people died during the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Buried in the Afghan casualty figures is some relatively positive news. Though Afghan civilian deaths are also up in 2010, the number caused by NATO forces dropped by 30 percent in the first six months of this year compared to 2009, according to the United Nations. While the Taliban was responsible for 2,477 casualties, allied and Afghan government forces accounted for just 386. That's a tribute to ousted U.S. commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who made reducing civilian deaths a key part of his counterinsurgency strategy, cutting back on the use of air strikes and artillery.
It's also notable that while violence has been spreading in Afghanistan, in much of the country casualties remain low. In 18 of the country's 34 provinces there have been 25 or fewer coalition deaths during the whole of the war. Forty-two percent of the fatalities have occurred in just two southern provinces -- Helmand and Kandahar, where the surge of U.S. troops ordered by President Obama is now underway. Another 20 percent are in Kabul or three provinces near the border with Pakistan, including Zabul, where Tuesday's helicopter crash took place.
None of this proves that the casualty levels are acceptable, or that the war is being won. But they do suggest that the situation remains far from desperate -- and certainly better than Iraq at its worst. In that war a coherent counterinsurgency strategy, and several years of steely patience by President George W. Bush, turned the situation around. It is, at least, far too early to conclude that the same cannot happen in Afghanistan.
| September 21, 2010; 9:07 AM ET
Categories: Diehl | Tags: Jackson Diehl
Save & Share: Previous: Jimmy Carter's superiority
Next: Can we really blame Lady Gaga for being politically incoherent?
Posted by: markswisshelm | September 21, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: gimom86 | September 21, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: tarquinis1 | September 21, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: SSTK34 | September 21, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: knjincvc | September 21, 2010 2:08 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Nikos_Retsos | September 21, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: TRUTH20 | September 21, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: ChrisFord1 | September 21, 2010 6:54 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: chucka1 | September 21, 2010 7:02 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: cdierd1944 | September 21, 2010 7:57 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: brng | September 21, 2010 8:59 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: texasnative46 | September 22, 2010 12:18 AM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.