Monday, July 02, 2007

June Statistics Plus

In Afghanistan, the 2007 fatalities at the end of June – halfway through the year – stand at 100 for the foreign forces, a number evenly split between the U.S. and all other countries. At this pace U.S. fatalities will hit 100 by year’s end, which would be the first time U.S. fatalities hit that milestone. It should be of concern to the White House that annual U.S. fatalities are headed toward the 100 milestone for the third year in a row – the numbers for 2005 and 2006 were 98 and 99, respectively, double what they were in 2002, 2003, and 2004. Overall U.S. fatalities now stand at 407.

Fatalities among the non-U.S. foreign forces in Afghanistan tripled between 2005 (31) and 2006 (93) and, as already noted are also tracking toward 100 in 2007. Britain and Canada account for 122 (62 and 60, respectively) of the 209 coalition deaths since the U.S. assault began on October 8, 2001. The only other countries with double-digit fatalities are Germany and Spain with 21 each. The high death toll reflects not only the wider coverage of coalition troops across Afghanistan but also the return of Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters seeking to undermine confidence among the Afghan people of NATO’s determination to support the government of President Hamid Karzai.

Two trends are particularly troublesome. In 2005, the entire country had 17 suicide bomb attacks, usually in vehicles. That figure shot up to 123 in 2006, causing 237 civilian deaths. The UN said another 519 civilians died from improvised explosive devices in 2006. The other trend involves the growing number of Afghan civilians who are killed by NATO and U.S. forces, most often when using air power against suspected Taliban compounds and houses.

In late November 2006, the Joint Co-coordinating Board, composed of Afghan officials and representatives from the coalition forces and the UN, estimate that approximately 1,000 civilians had died to date in 2006 (January-November). Overall, Human Rights Watch in a report issued in June 2007, estimated that of the 6,000 Afghans killed over the last 17 months, 1,500 were civilians.

The increased use of air attacks, both fixed-wing and rotary-wing, is symptomatic of the extreme reluctance of the United States – having invaded Afghanistan seeking Osama bin Laden – and subsequently of the allied forces that participate in the security and rebuilding effort, to commit enough troops to better control the villages and towns along the Afghan-Pakistan border. The increase in cross-border assaults by better trained and armed Taliban suggests that bin Laden is operating from Pakistan in conjunction with the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, who may in fact be back inside Afghanistan.

In Iraq, for the third consecutive month, U.S. fatalities exceeded 100 (101 actual), the first time this has occurred. This comes amidst a much touted change among Sunni sheiks in al-Anbar province who have organized their followers to support the government and U.S. troops directly and by encouraging young men to enter the police forces. And while official reported civilian deaths dropped by a third from May’s total of nearly 1,800, Iraqi security force fatalities remain just below the 200 mark in June – essentially no change from May.

During the four-plus years of the war in Iraq, Defense and State Department personnel have scoured history looking for similarities between the Iraq insurgency and earlier insurgencies and occupation duty after war ended. Thus in 2003 the rage seemed to be post-World War II occupations of Germany and Japan. A few looked at the British experience in Malaysia, but more turned to the Marine Corps Small Wars Manual (1940). And of course Vietnam holds some important lessons that remain relevant.

While pundits disagreed about Vietnam, some practitioners looked at what happened in Bosnia after Yugoslavia disintegrated. Now it appears that the French experience in Algeria holds sway, at least what is know publicly from the movie “Battle of Algiers” and Alistair Horne’s “A Savage War of Peace.”

Like any comparison involving warfare, no two wars are alike. But one strong caution drawn from the French experience that every U.S. policymaker should contemplate carefully is to note that the French were their own worst enemy. The regular use of torture by the French military and outright murder cost the French government the backing of the people who might otherwise have supported the government.

As happened to the U.S. in Vietnam, the French won all the military engagements but lost on the domestic and international political fronts.

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