The war in Afghanistan gets little attention by the mainstream media these days. But the loss of American lives continues to mount. Just last week, seven U.S. troops were killed by a powerful bomb which had exploded in a field where they were patrolling on foot. At least twenty-eight Americans have been killed in May, 2011 alone, according to the Associated Press.
To date, the Department of Defense has identified 1582 American service members who have died as part of the Afghanistan war and related operations, the majority of whom were killed since President Obama took office. During the Obama administration, more American service members have died in Afghanistan than during all the prior years since the Afghanistan war began in 2001.
For the U.S. military, 2010 was the deadliest year of the Afghanistan war so far. 499 service members died. Additionally, there were 5,182 US forces wounded in 2010. This represents more than half of all U.S. forces wounded in the entire Afghanistan war, which totaled 9,957 at the end of 2010.
The total U.S. military deaths compiled by the Defense Department for Operation Enduring Freedom for the years 2001 through 2010 are as follows:
Total Number of Military Deaths by Year
2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
11 49 45 52 98 83 106 155 311 499
Two factors have contributed to the increase in American fatalities during the Obama administration. The first reason is President Obama’s decision in December 2009 to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. This Obama “surge” represented a major escalation of America’s military presence there, putting more of our soldiers in harm’s way.
The second factor contributing to the increase in American fatalities since President Obama took office has been the more restrictive rules of engagement that the Obama administration has put in place to reduce the likelihood of civilian casualties. These rules, although loosened somewhat under General Petraeus, have restricted the use of air power and heavy weaponry in populated areas and prohibited our troops from shooting at the enemy unless fired upon first. This has the effect of shifting more of the risk of engagement from the Taliban and its allies to our own troops.
While statistics of civilian casualties resulting directly from NATO and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) military action have shown a decline during the last two years as stricter rules of engagement have been implemented to protect civilians from harm, civilians are still losing their lives from NATO attacks.
In the most recent example, on May 30, 2011 a NATO airstrike killed at least nine civilians in Afghanistan, including several women and children.
This latest incident occurred less than three months after NATO helicopter gunners had killed nine boys collecting firewood to heat their homes in the eastern Afghanistan mountains, mistaking them for Taliban insurgents. The killing of the nine boys, in turn, occurred less than two weeks after tribal elders in the Pech valley area of Kunar province had claimed NATO forces killed more than fifty civilians in air and ground strikes, a claim denied by NATO.
These are not isolated incidents. NATO airstrikes, including on houses where Taliban insurgents are believed to be hiding, have inflicted a heavy toll on Afghan civilians. Angered by the latest civilian deaths, President Hamid Karzai said on May 31st he will no longer allow NATO airstrikes on houses.
“If this is repeated,” Karzai warned, “Afghanistan has a lot of ways of stopping it, but we don’t want to go there.” He said that NATO forces risk being seen as an “occupying force,” utilizing one of the Taliban insurgents’ key talking points.
NATO officials apologized for the latest incident, but responded to Karzai’s threat that airstrikes on houses are essential and will continue.
Moreover, despite more U.S. troops committed to fighting the anti-government terrorist forces and providing more security to civilians, the number of civilian deaths at the hands of the terrorist forces has actually increased during the first two years of the Obama administration.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) issues annual reports with statistics, which constitute the most reliable source available for data on civilian casualties.
The following describes the data on civilian deaths in Afghanistan from UNAMA reports for the first two years of the Obama administration, with some comparisons to prior year figures during the Bush administration:
2007: Total = 1523; 2008: Total = 2118; 2009: Total = 2412; 2010: Total = 2777
UNAMA recorded a total of 2,412 civilian deaths during 2009. This figure represented an increase of 14% on the 2118 civilian deaths recorded in 2008. Of the 2,412 deaths reported in 2009, 1,630 (67%) were attributed to the Taliban and other terrorist insurgents and 596 (25%) to NATO, ISAF and other pro-government forces. The remainder of reported civilian deaths could not be clearly attributed to any particular side.
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