Attrition: Afghanistan Is The New Iraq


January 6, 2009: Last year, 151 American troops died in Afghanistan. That's still 12 percent below the rate (per thousand troops) of Iraq between 2004-7. However, the rate is more than twice what it was last year in Iraq (where it was 2 per thousand troops, versus 5 per thousand in Afghanistan.)

Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan has a major NATO participation (who have a third more troops than the U.S.) Last year, 138 NATO troops were killed in Afghanistan, a rate of 3.45 per thousand troops. However, there's a catch. Most NATO nations do not allow their troops in Afghanistan to fight. Peacekeeping (in those parts of Afghanistan where there is little violence), but not fighting (in the Taliban infested south). There, a third of the NATO force (mainly British Dutch and Canadian) do most of the fighting. This force suffers a higher combat death rate than U.S. troops. The British death rate was 6 per thousand, the Canadian rate was 11. Part of this is because the NATO combat units are operating in the most hostile areas (mainly Helmand province, where most of the worlds heroin is produced), and partly because the Taliban openly attempt to kill more of these troops. That's because public opinion in most NATO nations is hostile to the Afghanistan operations. The Taliban believe that higher NATO casualties will eventually lead to the troops being withdrawn. Canadian troops have been heavily targeted.

That NATO nation public opinion is based on the idea that Afghanistan is "America's problem" and that the U.S. should deal with it by themselves. NATO political and military leaders believe otherwise, and remember that, since World War II, it was U.S. military power that provided the bulk of the deterrent to Russian aggression in Europe. That, however, never became a popular belief in Europe, where most people and opinion leaders tended to take the American effort for granted, or dismissed it entirely.

Afghan troops and police suffered about a thousand deaths last year, and about 5,000 Taliban and al Qaeda fighters died. There were also about 1,500 civilians killed, mostly by Taliban action or terrorist attacks. Far more civilians were killed by tribal feuds, bandits and drug gangs. This took place throughout the country, but there was more of this violence in the south, where the drug gangs are very active.

In December, 14 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. This was the lowest monthly total since 2003. For all of 2008, 477 American troops were killed in combat, which was the lowest annual total since 2003.




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