Afghanistan: Nothing But Grim Milestones and Ominous Trends
A U.S. paratrooper pulls security during a combat operation in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province, June 2, 2012. Helicopters delivered fellow paratroopers and Afghan soldiers into the rugged mountain terrain. (Photo DOD)
Milestones are significant events in our personal lives, in projects and in war and peace.
Generally we celebrate those milestones but sometimes they come to symbolize sad and grim stages — especially in war — and they become milestones that we mourn and even fear.
Just a little over two months ago, on June 13, we mourned the tragic milestone of Marine Cpl. Taylor J. Baune being the 2,000th American to die in support of Operation Enduring Freedom — the Bush administration’s chosen name for the war in and around Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks.
Today, the New York Times highlights the lives and, sadly, the deaths of the 1,990th and the 2,000th American service members to die in the Afghanistan War.
The 1,990th casualty is Lance Corporal Buckley, a Marine who, on August 10, was shot by “a man who appears to have been a member of the Afghan forces they were training.”
A week later, with the death of Army Specialist James A. Justice, the United States military reached 2,000 dead in the nearly 11-year-old conflict, according to the Times.
Why the difference in the “milestones” of June and August?
The Times explains that this latest milestone is based on its analysis of Department of Defense records: “The calculation by The Times includes deaths not only in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan and other nations where American forces are directly involved in aiding the war.”
But whether the 2,000th military death in Afghanistan or in Operation Enduring Freedom occurred last week or two months ago, the tragedy lies in the numbers and in the trends.
As the Times points out:
• While nearly nine years passed before we reached the first 1,000 dead in the war, the second 1,000 came just 27 months later…
• In that “second wave of 1,000 deaths,” according to the Times’ analysis, “three out of four were white, nine out of 10 were enlisted service members, and one out of two died in either Kandahar Province or Helmand Province in Taliban-dominated southern Afghanistan. Their average age was 26.”
• The dead have been disproportionately Marines: “At the height of fighting in late 2010, two out of every 1,000 Marines in Afghanistan were dying, twice the rate of the Army. “
• I.E.D.’s have remained a leading cause of death and injury, since at least 2008, along with small-arms fire.
But the most disturbing and, in my opinion, the most infuriating trend has been the increasing number of U.S. military who are being killed and injured by those same Afghanistan security forces — soldiers and police — who we are helping, training, trying to defend supposedly against a common enemy.
The Times only broaches this issue and, then, in a somewhat ambiguous way:
But this year, a new threat emerged: attacks by Afghans dressed in the uniforms of Afghan security forces. In just the past two weeks, at least nine Americans have been killed in such insider attacks, and for the year to date, at least 39 non-Afghan troops, most of them American, have been killed by men dressed as members of the Afghan security forces, the most since the war began.
Ambiguous because of the choice of words, “Afghans dressed in the uniforms of Afghan security forces” and “men dressed as members of the Afghan security forces.”
Similarly, in describing the 1,990th casualty, Marine Lance Corporal Buckley, the Times attributes his death to “a man who appears to have been a member of the Afghan forces they were training.” (Emphasis mine)
In an article today, covering the overnight attack at Bagram Airfield that damaged a coalition helicopter and Gen. Dempsey’s C-17 transport plane, the Wall Street Journal is more to the point:
So far this year, Afghan police or soldiers have been responsible for roughly one out of every eight killings of coalition soldiers in Afghanistan.
At least 38 international troops, mostly Americans, have died at the hands of Afghan colleagues so far this year, with 10 U.S. forces killed in such attacks in the past two weeks alone. Five of those deaths were U.S. Special Operations Forces.
Note that the Journal does not say, “Afghans dressed as members of Afghans security forces,” but rather “Afghan police or soldiers.”
The Journal goes on to describe measures our troops are taking to protect themselves from the Afghan troops they are training and helping, including having “guardian angels” who “have a round in their chambers at all times, ready to shoot if Afghan security forces turn their weapons on members of the U.S.-led coalition.”
And here is another “trend” according to the Journal, a trend that could make the next grim milestone — the 3,000th U.S. casualty — come even faster than the one we just “achieved.”
But insider attacks continue to rise and coalition forces expect the upward trend to persist as the international coalition trains more Afghan security forces, expecting to reach a peak of 352,000 personnel by this fall.
The mother of Lance Corporal Buckley who was killed “possibly at the hand of a purported ally,” recounting “things her son loved — basketball, girls, movies, the beach…” said, according to the Times, “Our forces shouldn’t be there. It should be over. It’s done. No more.”
Edited to add link to the Wall Street Journal article