While the death of Osama bin Laden symbolized a momentous national defense achievement, nearly 100,000 US troops continue to fight in Afghanistan. During April, the US forces suffered 47 casualties in the Afghanistan War, according to the casualty database of the Defense Department. This amount of casualties is not only greater than March, when there were 31 casualties, but the amount of casualties in April is also greater than April 2010, when there were 26 casualties.
In addition to a rising amount of casualties in April, the amount of soldiers wounded in action also rose, with a total of 353 wounded soldiers [.pdf] as compared to 318 in March. In April 2010, there were 293 wounded soldiers, which similarly reflects an annual increase. With a greater amount of wounded soldiers and casualties in April, these facts suggest there is currently a greater amount of violence in Afghanistan than the past.
However, two other factors attempt to explain how the face value of the above facts could sound worse than they suggest. First, the surge of 30,000 US troops into Afghanistan was completed last August, which means the amount US troops is currently at its highest point of the entire Afghanistan War, with a total of 90,000 troops. A greater amount of US troops in the country suggests a greater likelihood for US casualties and wounded soldiers, due to a greater amount of targets.
Additionally, as mentioned in the past, US troops are “clearing areas that have never been cleared before,” which we can also assume would cause an acceleration in the amount of violence in Afghanistan. These logistical challenges of harsher areas and more targets have not correlated with a significant increase in violence, but these challenges have only correlated with a slight increase in violence, as the above statistics show. With a tinge of optimism, this attempts to explain how the rates of violence could increase, yet the ground conditions are not deteriorating as much as violence rates suggest.
Though, there were more casualties and wounded soldiers in April 2011 than each of the ten other Aprils of the Afghanistan War, which began in October 2001. On an annual scale, 2009 and 2010 were the two deadliest years of the Afghanistan War, when there were 311 and 499 casualties, respectively. In the first four months of 2009 and 2010, there were 49 and 107 casualties, respectively, as well as 182 and 1,007 wounded soldiers. Comparatively, the first four months of 2011 brought 123 casualties and 1,178 wounded soldiers. As a result, if the current pace of violence continues throughout 2011, this year would be the deadliest year of the entire Afghanistan War.
Meanwhile, even though President Obama promised to begin to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in July [.pdf], the breadth of this withdrawal is uncertain and likely depends on pending factors. The growing rates of violence are certainly among these factors, but another important issue is the security capacity of Afghan forces. A primary concern with Afghanistan’s domestic army is retaining recruits, which is discussed at length here.
In addition to the quantitative challenges for Afghanistan’s domestic army, the quality of these forces are also questionable, especially considering the growing tendency for members of the Taliban to pose as Afghan soldiers during attacks. For instance, a Taliban member in an Afghan uniform killed nine people at a NATO base on April 17th, 2011. There are many other similar examples, including three others in April alone, which suggests the quality of the Afghan forces is far from superlative.
With July around the corner, President Obama and his advisers are surely weighing the quantity and quality of Afghanistan’s security forces, as well as the prevalence of violence against troops. Since these factors each present troubling trends, as well as the fact that Vice President Biden and Defense Secretary Gates have both publicly suggested an American presence in Afghanistan until 2014, the withdrawal of troops in July will likely be quite modest.
Lastly, with the inclusion of casualties in April, the US forces have now suffered 1,558 casualties throughout the Afghanistan War.