This morning an article in the New York Times chronicles the history of American casualties in Afghanistan, opening with an anecdote:
Not long after Staff Sgt. Matthew D. Blaskowski was killed by a sniper’s bullet last Sept. 23 in eastern Afghanistan, his mother received an e-mail message with a link to a video on the Internet. A television reporter happened to have been filming a story at Sergeant Blaskowski’s small mountain outpost when it came under fire and the sergeant was shot.
continuing with a year-by-year breakdown, so many killed in 2003, so many killed in 2004, and so on.
In all, 95 Americans died in Afghanistan in 2005, up from 51 in 2004, and for the first time in the war, hostile deaths in Operation Enduring Freedom outpaced nonhostile deaths. The year 2005 also saw a leap in the Taliban’s use of homemade bombs — improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.s, in military parlance — most often buried in dirt roads. They were no less deadly than they were proving to be in Iraq.
The piece concludes by returning to their opening story of one family’s grief:
The images have provided Ms. Blaskowski with “some peace,” she said, yet in the same breath she admitted to a hope that her son would come back someday.
“I think it isn’t true, and he will call in the middle of the night like he used to,” she said. “We would sleep lightly to listen for that blessed phone call.”
“Now,” she added, “we don’t sleep well at all.”
The story is almost context-free. There’s very little indication of why our forces are in Afghanistan, what their objectives are, or even of the wishes and beliefs of the soldiers who died. Things just happen for no reason. You just tally the deaths. Life has meaning only insofar as you’re valued by your loved ones and death is completely meaningless.
Honestly, I don’t envy the position that the New York Times finds itself in. They’ve supported increased troop commitments to Afghanistan and criticized the Bush Administration for its lack of attention to that front. But the Times’s editors, like Sen. Obama, have been largely silent on what the strategic objectives in Afghanistan are, how they can be achieved without widening the war into Pakistan, and the cost in time, lives, and money of achieving victory there.
The additional problem is that their preferred narrative, that lack of attention by the Bush Administration, has resulted in an increasingly dangerous situation in Afghanistan, doesn’t fit the actual facts particularly well. Here are the historical statistics of U. S. deployments and fatalities in Afghanistan:
|Year||Deployment||Fatalities||Fatalities per 100K|
Sources: Deployment: Global Security, U. S. military sources, Christian Science Monitor, others. Casualties: iCasualties.org
Note that 2008 is year-to-date. Presumably, the total number of deaths in 2008 will at least be at 2007 levels. Note also that the casualty rates per 100,000 for all NATO forces are considerably higher than for U. S. forces alone. For example, the fatalities per 100,000 in 2007 were 566. That’s roughly what the casualty rate in Iraq was (it’s now significantly lower than that). As usual if you’ve got better numbers, trot ’em out and I’ll update my post.
Do these figures fit the prevailing narrative, Afghanistan becoming more deadly or my preferred interpretation: the more troops we have in Afghanistan, the more get killed? It’s not as though Afghanistan used to be a safe place and it’s suddenly become dangerous. The casualty rates have always been high there and, as our troop levels rise, they’re becoming higher.