During February, the US forces suffered twenty casualties in the Afghanistan War, according to the casualty database of the Defense Department. This is the third consecutive month with a reduction in casualties, as well as the first month since April 2010 with twenty or fewer casualties. February also brought a 35% reduction in casualties compared to February 2010, when there were 31 casualties.
There was not only a reduced amount of US casualties during February, but also fewer soldiers wounded in action, with a total of 187 wounded soldiers throughout the month. This is the sixth straight month with a decline in wounded soldiers, as well as the fewest amount of wounded soldiers in fourteen months. While these comparisons to the recent past indicate improved ground conditions, most violence in Afghanistan generally occurs during summer months.
Throughout the Afghanistan War, almost half (49%) of all wounded soldiers have occurred in June, July, August, or September, as well as 46% of all casualties. In other words, a third of the calendar year accounts for nearly half of the violence in the Afghanistan War. Based on this trend, more violence occurs during summer months than the fall, winter, and spring months, as the statistics for February also support.
However, although February had fewer casualties and wounded soldiers than recent months, there were more casualties and wounded soldiers in February 2011 than the nine other Februaries of the Afghanistan War, except for February 2010, as mentioned above. This fact shows how the violence in February 2011 was relatively high compared to other Februaries of the Afghanistan War. Further, violence in Afghanistan significantly increased in 2009 & 2010, yet violence in 2011 is not as bad as 2010, but it’s worse than 2009.
Including the February 2011 results, the US forces have suffered 1,480 casualties throughout the entire Afghanistan War, which began in October 2001. Over half (58%) of these casualties occurred in the past 26 months. During 2009 and 2010, there were 311 and 499 casualties, respectively, which are the two deadliest years of the Afghanistan War.
The rate of violence increased in Afghanistan for two main reasons, according to the Defense Department. First, there are more troops in Afghanistan than any other point in the war and this increases the likelihood for US casualties. There are currently 90,000 US troops stationed in Afghanistan. Second, the US forces are “clearing areas that have never been cleared before,” particularly in Southern and Eastern Afghanistan, where the Taliban is the strongest. These considerations attempt to explain how violence in Afghanistan could rise, yet the ground conditions are not deteriorating as much as violence levels suggest.
With more troops in Afghanistan than any previous year, violence in 2011 could surpass previous years, but such violence probably would not occur until the summer months, when violence is more prevalent. During March, as well as the next couple of months, violence will likely remain around the February levels (15-25 casualties and 175-225 wounded soldiers).
Meanwhile, the ground conditions and violence in the summer months of 2011 will ultimately determine whether the surge of 30,000 US troops completed last August was a success. In December, President Obama confirmed the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in July 2011, but the extent of the withdrawal is not set. However, the US military has already promised to remain in Afghanistan until 2014.
Yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told troops in Afghanistan that the US could even be in the country beyond 2014, but “it would be a small fraction of the presence that we have today.” Vice President Joe Biden also said in January that “we will stay [in Afghanistan beyond 2014] if we were asked.” With leaders of the military promising at least three more years in Afghanistan, as well as suggesting a permanent US presence, the withdrawal in July 2011 will likely be quite narrow.