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American death toll passes 1,000 in Afghanistan war

U.S. soldiers secure an area after finding a vehicle filled with explosives Thursday near Jalalabad air base in Afghanistan.
U.S. soldiers secure an area after finding a vehicle filled with explosives Thursday near Jalalabad air base in Afghanistan.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press

More casualties likely as anti-Taliban push accelerates.

Friday, May 28, 2010 10:10 am
KABUL, Afghanistan — The American military death toll in Afghanistan has surpassed 1,000 at a time when President Obama's strategy to turn back the Taliban is facing its greatest test — an ambitious campaign to win over a disgruntled population in the insurgents' southern heartland.More casualties are expected when the campaign kicks into high gear this summer. The results may determine the outcome of a nearly nine-year conflict that became “Obama's war” after he decided to shift the fight against Islamist militancy from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan, where Afghan insurgents find sanctuary.

The grim milestone was reached when NATO reported that a service member was killed today in a roadside bombing in southern Afghanistan. The statement did not identify the victim or give the nationality. U.S. spokesman Col. Wayne Shanks said the service member was American — the 32nd U.S. war death this month by an Associated Press count.

Already the new focus on the once-forgotten Afghan war has come at a heavy price. More than 430 of the U.S. dead were killed after Obama took office in January 2009.

The list of American service members killed in combat in Afghanistan begins with Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Ross Chapman of San Antonio, Texas, a 31-year-old career Special forces soldier ambushed Jan. 4, 2002, after attending a meeting with Afghan leaders in Khost province. He left a wife and two children. The base where a suicide bomber killed seven CIA employees last December bears his name.

For many of the more than 94,000 U.S. service members in Afghanistan, the 1,000-mark passed without fanfare. Capt. Nick Ziemba of Wilbraham, Mass., serving with the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment in southern Afghanistan, said 1,000 was an arbitrary number and would have no impact on troop morale or operations.

“We're going to continue to work,” he said.

The AP bases its tally on Defense Department reports of deaths suffered as a direct result of the Afghan conflict, including personnel assigned to units in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Uzbekistan. Other news organizations count deaths suffered by service members assigned elsewhere as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, which includes operations in the Philippines, the Horn of Africa and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The milestone comes midway between the president's decision last December to send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan and a gut check on the war's progress that he has promised by the end of the year.

After a long and wrenching conflict in Iraq — which has claimed nearly 4,400 American military lives — Obama has promised not to be backed into an open-ended war in Afghanistan. He has insisted that some U.S. troops will come home beginning in July 2011.

That has not been enough to satisfy his anti-war supporters. At the same time, mid-2011 may be too soon to turn the tide. As casualties rise, the slide in overall support for the war may accelerate.

A majority of Americans — 52 percent — say the war is not worth the cost. The negative assessment in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll followed a brief rise in support for the war after Obama refocused the U.S. war plan last year.

In an AP-GfK Poll in March, the public was about split: 50 percent said they opposed the war and 46 percent favored it. That was within the poll's margin of error.

In the same poll, 57 percent said they would oppose sending more troops to Afghanistan and 49 percent approved of the job Obama is doing on Afghanistan. That's equal to his overall approval rating and one of the higher approval ratings he gets on any issue.

Those figures could change dramatically depending on the outcome of the coming operation in Kandahar, the biggest city in the south, with about a half million people, and the Taliban's former spiritual headquarters. U.S. commanders believe Kandahar is the key to the ethnic Pashtun south, the main theater in the war.

The operation will pose the greatest test for the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy, which focuses on protecting civilians, bolstering the Afghan government and rushing in economic development to win public support. It is also expected to lead to a spike in U.S. casualties, even though the military says the campaign will include very little traditional combat.

America's top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, said last week that the southern campaign is the key to persuading Afghans to reject the Taliban, take greater control of their own security and support the central government in Kabul.

That won't be easy. Many Pashtuns, who form the overwhelming majority of the Taliban, view the central government as corrupt and ineffectual, dominated by rival communities of ethnic Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks.

Many Pashtuns prefer negotiations with the Taliban, even if talks end with a significant political role for an Islamist movement that once sheltered al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

“The Taliban are not outsiders. They are our own people,” said Kandahar farmer Raaz Mohammad. “They should sit and resolve the situation. This is the only thing they can do if they want peace over here.”

Among many rural southern Pashtuns, years of deteriorating security, rising crime and corrupt administration have blurred memories of the economic hardship, harsh rule and subjugation of women that were hallmarks of the Taliban when they ran most of the country from 1996 until the U.S.-led invasion of 2001.

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