The Associated Press reports that 1,968 members of the U.S. military have died in the war that began late in 2001.
The Department of Defense’s total is four less than the AP’s.
And last week, the New York Times, which uses its own independent verification of Defense Department statistics, reported that the United States crossed the 2,000-casualty threshold in mid-August when Army Specialist James A. Justice, of Grover, N.C., died at a military hospital in Germany.
(For what it’s worth, the website icasualties.org, which has its own methods of tracking coalition deaths in the Iraq and Afghan wars, says the U.S. total for Afghanistan is 2,103.)
Regardless of which figure you recognize, the United States is paying a terrible price for this 11-year conflict that the AP last week called “America’s forgotten war.” It also is America’s longest war, whose end isn’t expected for another two years.
We trust that families and friends of America’s 2,000-or-so Afghanistan casualties — along with the families of the 81,500 U.S. troops still there — haven’t forgotten about the daily dangers faced by Americans fighting a war that started following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Unlike the pre-emptive mistake of Iraq, the war in Afghanistan began on just terms. The United States had been attacked, 3,000 civilians had died, and the U.S. government was right to use its military to track down those responsible.
Osama bin Laden, the secretive al-Qaida leader, died in a U.S. Navy SEAL raid on his Pakistan compound in May 2011. The number of U.S. military casualties starkly rose after President Barack Obama’s troop-surge announcement in December 2009. (The war’s death toll was at 500 in December 2008; it’s tripled in size since then.)
Afghanistan is a different place, an unruly place with hundreds of years of history dominated by tribal leaders and, today, Taliban warlords. Conventional warfare struggles there. Other nations — most notably, the former Soviet Union — are all-too familiar with the difficulty of winning a war in the mountainous, unforgiving Afghan land.
Often we talk about America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, and rightly so. But the removal of U.S. troops isn’t scheduled until late 2014, and leaving a decade-long war creates legitimate concerns about what we’ll be leaving behind: chaos or a semblance of order? Even though the U.S. presence there is dropping — the Pentagon says troop levels should be at 68,000 by the end of September — the dangers persist. Recent weeks are proof.
Last Wednesday, The Times reported that at least nine Americans have died in the last two weeks in attacks committed by Afghans dressed in the uniforms of friendly Afghan security forces. In 2012, at least 39 non-Afghan troops, most of them Americans, have been killed in a similar fashion.
Until the American military leaves Afghanistan, there’s every reason to fear that our rising death toll in that war will increase. It’s already way too high.