US military deaths in the Afghan war have reached 2,000, a cold reminder of the human cost of an 11-year-old conflict that garners little public interest at home as the US prepares to withdraw most of its combat forces by the end of 2014.
The toll has climbed steadily in recent months, with a spate of attacks by Afghan army and police against US and NATO troops, and questions about whether allied countries will achieve their aim of helping the Afghan government and its forces stand on their own after most foreign troops depart in little more than two years.
A US official confirmed the latest death yesterday, saying that an international service member killed in an apparent insider attack by Afghan forces in the east of the country late on Saturday was an American. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the nationality of those killed had not been formally released.
A civilian contractor with NATO and at least two Afghan soldiers also died in the attack, according to a coalition statement and Afghan provincial officials. The nationality of the civilian was not disclosed.
At least 1,190 more coalition troops have also died in the Afghanistan war, according to iCasualties.org, an independent organization.
According to the Afghanistan index kept by the Brookings Institution, 40.2 percent of the deaths were caused by improvised explosive devices, with the majority of those after 2009, when US President Barack Obama ordered a surge of 33,000 troops to combat heightened Taliban activity.
According to the Washington-based research center, the second-highest cause, 30.6 percent, was hostile fire.
Tracking civilian deaths is much more difficult. According to the UN, 13,431 civilians were killed in the Afghan conflict between 2007, when the UN began keeping statistics, and the end of August. Going back to the US-led invasion in 2001, most estimates put the number of Afghan deaths in the war at more than 20,000.
The 2001 invasion targeted al-Qaeda and its Taliban allies after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the US, which claimed nearly 3,000 lives.
Victory in Afghanistan seemed to come quickly. Kabul fell within weeks, and the hardline Taliban regime was toppled with few US casualties.
However, former US president George W. Bush’s administration shifted to war with Iraq, leaving the Western powers without enough resources on the ground, so by 2006 the Taliban had regrouped into a serious military threat.
Obama deployed more troops to Afghanistan, but the US public grew weary of having its military in a perpetual state of conflict, especially after the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq at the end of last year. That war, which began with a US-led invasion in 2003 to oust former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, cost the lives of nearly 4,500 US troops, more than twice as many as have died in Afghanistan so far.
“The tally is modest by the standards of war historically, but every fatality is a tragedy and 11 years is too long,” Brookings fellow Michael O’Hanlon said. “All that is internalized, however, in an American public that has been watching this campaign for a long time. More newsworthy right now are the insider attacks and the sense of hopelessness they convey to many.”