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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 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.

By Jackson Diehl  | September 21, 2010; 9:07 AM ET
Categories:  Diehl  | Tags:  Jackson Diehl  
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Most of the civilian casualties caused by the the Taliban are "collateral" damage from attacking the foreign NATO forces so the average Afghan man on the street blames NATO for those deaths as well.

Posted by: markswisshelm | September 21, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

Deaths are bad enough but you don't even touch on the vast number of wounded with horrific, lifelong injuries, nor the traumatic brain injuries, PTSD & the increasing suicides resulting from too many deployments and too little proper mental health care for our men & women. What a narrow misleading view of the horrors of these wars.

Posted by: gimom86 | September 21, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Defense Minister Lin Piao: The Nature of People's War, Statement of September 3, 1965:

Comrade Mao Tse-tung's theory of People's War has been proved by the long practice of the Chinese revolution to be in accord with the objective laws of such wars and to be invincible.

It has not only been valid for China, it is a great contribution to the revolutionary struggles of oppressed nations and peoples throughout the world.

U.S. imperialism is stronger, but also more vulnerable, than any imperialism of the past. It sets itself against the people of the whole world, including the people of the United States. Its human, military, material and financial resources are far from sufficient for the realization of its ambition of dominating the whole world. U.S. imperialism has further weakened itself by occupying so many places in the world, over-reaching itself, stretching its fingers out wide arid dispersing its strength, with its rear so far away and its supply lines so long. As Comrade Mao Tse-tung has said, "Wherever it commits aggression, it puts a new noose around its neck. It is besieged ring upon ring by the people of the whole world".

Everything is divisible. And so is this colossus of U.S. imperialism. It can be split up and defeated. The peoples of Asia, Africa, Latin America and other regions can destroy it piece by piece, some striking at its head and others at its feet. That is why the greatest fear of U.S. imperialism is that people's wars will be launched in different parts of the world, and particularly in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and why it regards people's war as a mortal danger.

Viet Nam is the most convincing current example of a victim of aggression defeating U.S. imperialism by a people's war. The United States has made South Viet Nam a testing ground for the suppression of people's war. It has carried on this experiment for many years, and everybody can now see that the U.S. aggressors are unable to find a way of coping with people's war.

On the other hand, the Vietnamese people have brought the power of people's war into full play in their struggle against the U.S. aggressors. The U.S. aggressors are in danger of being swamped in the people's war in Viet Nam. They are deeply worried that their defeat in Viet Nam will lead to a chain reaction. They are expanding the war in an attempt to save themselves from defeat. But the more they expand the war, the greater will be the chain reaction. The more they escalate the war, the heavier will be their fall and the more disastrous their defeat. The people in other parts of the world will see still more clearly that U.S. imperialism can be defeated, and that which the Vietnamese people can do, they can do too.

History has proved and will go on proving, that people's war is the most effective weapon against U.S. imperialism.


Many differences to be sure, but central Asia will prove once again, the victory of People's War against imperial aggressors.

Posted by: tarquinis1 | September 21, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Stop nation building and give the military one command - Kill Taliban. Then our casualites will drop drastically.

Posted by: SSTK34 | September 21, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

"In that war a coherent counterinsurgency strategy, and several years of steely patience by President George W. Bush,"

While GWB was play acting as POTUS, cheney, rumsfeld and tommy franks surrendered to the Taliban when they let OBL escape Tora Bora for nuclear Pakistan.

You may see GWB as steely but his dithering on the surge is proving to be an absolute failure of leadership, the civil war in Iraq is just beginning.

Posted by: knjincvc | September 21, 2010 2:08 PM | Report abuse

The tragic death of 9 American troops in Afghanistan while election ballots are counted reminds us that "body counting" will determine the outcome of that war - not ballot counting! The adage "If the government is not winning a war, it is losing it," figures prominently in Afghanistan. Ballots and elections are an alien concept in Afghanistan's history, and trying to cultivate it with foreign armies, occupation, widespread corruption and bombing won't produce a blooming democracy. The war there, therefore, will continue until the "body count" makes us too exhausted to continue! Can we bear them? Sure. Those who control the war don't feel any risk to themselves.

The Afghan war has become a human meat grinder. And that reminds me the Hernest Hemingway's aphorism: "In a modern will die like a dog for no good reason!" George Bush went to Afghanistan to teach Muslims a lesson. He thought it will be easy to wipe out the ragtag Taliban, and in the process terrify other anti-American Muslims, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, etc., so much that all of them will cry uncle when the U.S. give them the marching orders. It was a boomerang! Iran has become a Middle East power to reckon with, and Hezbollah has become the most respected and feared militia in the world!

George Bush has come to understand his illusion in retirement by now, but Barack Obama has kept Bush's "cloudy crystal ball" on our U.S. foreign policy. But, by now, he has become too confused will all the failures he is encountering in reading it and following George Bush's scrip on subjugating the Muslims. And Obama himself has become himself a hostage of the U.S. Military and Industrial Complex who is gulping the $ U.S. billions for the Afghan war, while he still cannot figure out how to stop it without be portrayed as a coward and risking his 2012 re-election! Obama, willingly or unwillingly, has found himself in the cocoon of the late Barry Goldwater who once bragged: "Thank heaven for the Military-Industrial Complex. Its ultimate aim is peace in our time!" And the Military-Industrial Complex pulls Obama by the nose - as the dismissed former Afghan U.S. commander, General McChrystal, revealed before his dismissal.

Last week we leaned that an American unit in Afghanistan was killing Afghan civilians "for sport!" And that
tells us that our army there has seen the futility of the war, but since they are still under orders to keep on fighting, they have lost their sense on humanity and just shoot anything that come across their view. And the Afghan insurgency does likewise. Human life, therefore, is just wasted for "no good reason" - thank you Mr. Hemingway- because we lack real leaders - Charles de Gaulle types, who can stop war "cold turkey" - as De Gaulle did in Algeria in 1962. Unfortunately, we are saddled with buffoon presidents looking for wartime glory in the U.S. history, or for safeguarding their re-election. Nikos Retsos

Posted by: Nikos_Retsos | September 21, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

Keeping in tune with US Foreign Policy is needed and there will always be death's and illnesses that will never be understood. Inhumane acts also come with the territory. Many people will never understand the sacrifice it takes to gain peace.
How about looking at US major city homicides each year that account for more deaths than the yearly average of this needed war.
Chicago alone has had over 4,600 homicides since 2001:
2001: 666
2002: 647
2003: 598
2004: 448
2005: 449
2006: 467
2007: 442
2008: 510
2009: 458
Where's the coverage to stop that war?
We need to focus on our own countries inadaquacies before we highlight much needed war zones.

Posted by: TRUTH20 | September 21, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

Its wrong to focus on KIA as the be-all and end-all of any discussions on war. Somehow, the media has dismissed grievously wounded, crippled for life due to military service personnel - as a trivial thing.
It is also wrong to ignore the sacrifice of those doing duty, and the sacrifice of American taxpayers - present ones, but also future ones since the money to fund the war is borrowed. Because of Afghanistan's remote location - even simple things entail extravagent expense. A gallon of av fuel for a forward deployed helo costs 140 dollars to get there. Each soldier costs over a million dollars a year simply to deploy, plus "extras" like infrastructure, Karzai and Paki bribes and high tech things not wielded by "heroes" on the ground but remote support and tactical air units....100 billion dollars a year.

We have to ask if the "noble Afghan people" are worth all the costs. IMO, they aren't.
We have to ask if the whole Bush rationale that we have to nation-build there so they won't attack us here is true and makes any strategic sense.
We have to think about 100 billion lost each year and if we are losing opportunity costs for fixing things in America by insisting on shovelling bales of 100 dollar bills on corrupt Paki and Afghan leaders....building roads for people that want to kill us..and not investing here at home in infrastructure and jobs for Americans.

Posted by: ChrisFord1 | September 21, 2010 6:54 PM | Report abuse

It isn't so much a question as what we can bear as it is what the Obama administration can get away with in light of an apathetic and powerless public. We threw out the Republicans, but now it is Lyndon Baines Obama who is expanding the war in Afghanistan. There is no public support for the war any longer. We decimated Al Qaeda years ago and there is simply nothing more to "win" in this god-forsaken land. Although there is no public support for the war and no support for Afghan nation-building, the war goes on and on.

Even the silver-tongued Obama can't begin to really explain how the loss of life and the $4 billion a month cost of operations in Afghanistan has brings us any commensurate increase in our safety. Occupying other countries with our military simply doesn't make us safer or richer -- quite the opposite is true.

Posted by: chucka1 | September 21, 2010 7:02 PM | Report abuse

When the country makes a decision to go to war, we are accepting the fact that our forces are going to suffer death or injury. KIAs is one measure of our war effort. The number of enemy killed is another but we hardly ever hear that statistic. In the end, KIAs is not the most important measure. The key is are we winning the hearts and minds of those we are trying to free from Taliban control. I have doubts we will be able to do that. Just like Iraq, I believe we will eventually stop our combat missions in Afghanistan and leave a residual force for a while to help the Afghan government maintain security. The question is whether we are better off from being in Afghanistan than we would have been if we were not involved? Unlike Iraq, I believe the answer is yes, but we should not plan on staying forever. P.S. I served in Vietnam and we suffered over 58,000 KIAs in that war.

Posted by: cdierd1944 | September 21, 2010 7:57 PM | Report abuse

Looking at Afghanistan and Vietnam is so odd in the context of the worldwide heroin markets which grew with the escalation of military campaigns in these regions.

Afghanistan has now replaced Burma as the world's leading production zone for opium, generating billions for some of the world's most outstanding citizens who will no doubt take their billions and do all sorts of good things.


Posted by: brng | September 21, 2010 8:59 PM | Report abuse

to all,

IF the main-SLIME press would just "SHUT UP", if they cannot support our troops in the 2 theaters of war AND support our troop's missions, we could WIN both wars.

it is NO coincidence that the press only reports CASUALTY figures, common gossip & (mostly) KNOWINGLY FALSE "atrocity stories". = the LEFTIST, ANTI-American press wants the US to LOSE.- it's no more complicated than that.

be glad that i'm NOT "running the war" (i retired from the Army years ago.), as i would widely broadcast in BOTH combat zones, than any person, who offers/provides aid, shelter, weapons, money, information or anything else of value to the enemy, would be considered a COMBATANT & a TARGET of OPPORTUNITY for American firepower.

if this sounds HARSH, INHUMAN, INSENSITIVE or in any other way "unacceptable" to you (as a civilian sitting here safely at home in CONUS), consider that, unlike most people here, i've actually had over 2 decades of experience in military tactics & know what it takes to WIN a war.

otoh, the main-SLIME press & over 90% of the "general public" has NO clue about anything, except their untutored/ignorant/stupid opinions.

as a US veteran of the RVN period, let me say, further, that IF you don't want VICTORY to be our singular war GOAL:
1. you don't deserve to kiss the feet of the FINE men/women, who are now in combat & fighting for YOU,
2. we should pull out ALL our troops (right now) from every foreign country
3. resign ourselves to being a "third rate military power", which is at the mercy of every tinpot dictator, terrorist and/or lunatic on earth.

NOTE: to put our "casualty figures" in context, at Normandy in 1944, MORE Americans were killed in less than 15 MINUTES than in ALL of BOTH current wars, COMBINED.
(face it, dear readers, soldiers DIE & are greviously WOUNDED in war.= it is the nature of combat & what we soldiers, marines, sailors, airmen & coasties "signed on" for.)

just my opinion.

yours, TN46
coordinator, CCTPP

Posted by: texasnative46 | September 22, 2010 12:18 AM | Report abuse

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