The Associated Press is reporting this morning that August has been the deadliest month for U.S. troops in the nearly 10-year-old war in Afghanistan, as the U.S. military begins to carry out President Obama's plan to withdraw 10,000 troops this year and another 23,000 by the summer of 2012. Sixty-six U.S. troops have died so far this month, according to an AP tally, surpassing the 65 killed in July 2010.
The milestone is significant, especially since it indicates that violence is persisting across the nation "despite the U.S.-led coalition's drive to rout insurgents from their strongholds in the south," according to the AP. But there are also important caveats to point out when assessing today's news. First, August's tally includes the 30 Americans who were killed when insurgents shot down their Chinook helicopter, in the single deadliest incident of the war. The number of casualties would therefore have nearly been cut in half had it not been for the attack, which raised concerns about America's ability to realize its goals in Afghanistan and the Taliban's new military strategies and capabilities.
What's more, the so-called "summer fighting season" in Afghanistan has historically brought a higher number of causalities as insurgents escalate attacks on foreign troops--a reality that factored into Obama's withdrawal plan. According to iCasualties.org, an independent site that tracks war fatalities, four out of the five deadliest months of the war have occurred during the past two summers. This past spring, General David Petraeus told the AP that fighting in Afghanistan this summer might be considerably worse than last summer. (2010 turned out to be the deadliest year for U.S. troops in Afghanistan.) The insurgents "will come back in force," he estimated. "There is some concern that there will be sensational attacks that could be indiscriminate in nature." Still, The Washington Post pointed out in April that the Taliban was beginning the 2011 summer fighting season "with less southern territory under their control or influence than they had the previous year" for the first time since the war began. "Instead of trying to take on American troops directly," the paper added, the Taliban will shift tactics and "plant more homemade explosives, recruit a new cadre of suicide bombers, and assassinate Afghan government officials," U.S. commanders expect. "The result, according to an internal military projection, could be a far more violent summer for both Americans and Afghans." The prediction about suicide attacks on Afghan officials has certainly proved prescient. But the iCasualties.org numbers indicate that, with 180 casualties, the summer of 2010 turned out to be deadlier for U.S. troops than the summer of 2011 (149 causalities) has been so far.