Several Texas news sources are reporting the identity of the 2,000th U.S. military casualty in Afghanistan.
According to these sources it is Sgt. 1st Class Riley G. Stephens, 39, of Tolar, Texas. Stephens was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Tolar is located 43 miles southwest of Fort Worth in Hood County.
In an interview on the CBS program “60 Minutes” last night, Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan told CBS correspondent Lara Logan:
I’m mad as hell about them, to be honest with you. We’re going to get after this. It reverberates everywhere across the United States. We’re willing to sacrifice a lot for this campaign, but we’re not willing to be murdered for it.
He also said, “In Iraq, the signature weapon system that we hadn’t seen before was the [improvised explosive device].We had to adjust to that. Here, I think the signature attack that we’re beginning to see is going to be the insider attack.”
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On June 14, in its now all-too-familiar, all-too-businesslike format, the Department of Defense announced the death of a Marine who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom:
Cpl. Taylor J. Baune, 21, of Andover, Minn., died June 13 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Twentynine Palms, Calif.
A few days later, Military.com reported that Cpl. Taylor Baune had become the 2,000th American to die in Operation Enduring Freedom.
On June 17, here at The Moderate Voice, we mourned the grim statistic and, more important, the 21-year-old Marine behind the statistic — a young man who left behind his equally young bride, his father, his half-brother and half-sister and his in-laws.
A couple of months later, on August 21, the New York Times announced that with the death of Army Specialist James A. Justice — also 21 — at a military hospital in Germany on August 14, the United States military reached 2,000 dead in the nearly 11-year-old conflict. This statistic was based on an analysis by the Times of Department of Defense records and included deaths not only in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan and other nations where American forces are directly involved in aiding the war.
Along with the report of the 2,000th American death in the Afghanistan War, the Times also reported the 1,990th casualty.
Why the 1,990th death?
The 1,990th casualty was 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.”
At the time I said that the most disturbing and, in my opinion, the most infuriating trend in the war was the fact that U.S. and other coalition forces in Afghanistan were being killed and injured in increasing numbers by the very same Afghan security forces who we are helping, training and fighting alongside, supposedly against a common enemy– the so-called “insider attacks” or “green-on-blue” attacks.
On the same day that the Times announced the 2,000th American casualty, the Wall Street Journal wrote:
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.
The Journal added, “… insider attacks continue to rise and coalition forces expect the upward trend to persist as the international coalition trains more Afghan security forces…”
Since then the trend predicted by the Journal has continued despite assurances by the President that “senior coalition and Afghan military leaders would continue to intensify measures to thwart the spate of attacks against coalition forces by people wearing Afghan military and police uniforms,” notwithstanding Secretary Panetta’s “encouraging” Hamid Karzai to “further strengthen ISAF-Afghan cooperation and counter the insider attack threat” and although the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, supports NATO’s decision to curtail closely partnered operations with Afghan forces because of the on-going attacks on coalition forces.
Today is the day that President Barack Obama has proclaimed Gold Star Mother’s and Family’s Day — a day for a grateful Nation to honor our fallen service members and “the families who keep their memory burning bright.”
According to the presidential proclamation:
They are parents who face the loss of a child, spouses who carry an emptiness that cannot be filled, children who know sorrow that defies comprehension. The grief they hold in their hearts is a grief most cannot fully know. But as fellow Americans, we must lend our strength to those families who have given so much for our country. Their burdens are ones that no one should have to bear alone, and it is up to all of us to live our lives in a way worthy of their sacrifice.
Ironically and cruelly, today, according to the Stars and Stripes , “A firefight broke out between U.S. forces and their Afghan army allies in eastern Afghanistan Sunday, killing two Americans and three Afghan soldiers” and — according to yet another “calculation” — pushing the number of U.S. troops killed in the Afghanistan War to 2,000.
It is not clear whether these latest deaths are included in the 52 American and other NATO troops that have been killed so far this year in these green-on-blue attacks.
Nor is it clear how this latest tragedy — which is reported to have also involved “insurgent fire” — is the result of a “misunderstanding” between international forces and Afghan soldiers manning a checkpoint in the Sayd Abad district, as the Afghan Defense Ministry claims.
Finally, it is not exactly clear how the various news organizations arrive at these statistics — this is the third “2,000” statistic.
What is perfectly clear, however, is that we have lost two more American troops in an endless conflict.
A conflict that so relentlessly and heartlessly creates additional Gold Star Mothers almost every day.
A conflict about which the mother of Lance Cpl. Gregory T. Buckley, the 1,990th casualty of the Afghanistan War who was possibly killed by a purported ally, said, “Our forces shouldn’t be there. It should be over. It’s done. No more.”
Photo: Marines with Scout Sniper Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, Regimental Combat Team 6 exit a compound in Agha Ahmad, Afghanistan, Aug. 27, 2012. The Marines with Scout Sniper Platoon and their attachments stood in an over watch position to provide surveillance and gather intelligence on the enemy as part during Operation Helmand Viper. (DOD)
The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a writer.