Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has squared off with the federal government on several fronts: the Environmental Protection Agency's finding that greenhouse gases threaten the environment, the new health care law and border security.
On a July 16 broadcast of Fox New's "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren," Abbott emphasized the gravity of violence on the Texas-Mexico border.
"Look at the raw numbers," he said. "More lives have been lost because of the war with the drug cartels in Juarez alone, just a few blocks from the United States of America, than have been lost in the war in Afghanistan. Over the past couple of years, more than 2,400 people in Juarez alone have been killed because of the drug cartel war, more than 5,000 across the country of Mexico. It is more dangerous to walk the streets of Juarez a few blocks from El Paso than it is to walk the streets of Baghdad."
Drug violence surged in Mexico in 2008, when the death toll doubled that of 2007, according to a January 2009 CNN story. A September 2008 memo from the U.S. Consulate General in Juarez warns Americans from traveling in Chiuahua due to "an increase in violent criminal activity fueled by a war between drug cartels."
First we wondered whether Baghdad is really safer than Juarez, but one security expert suggested that would be a subjective call. The death toll is one indicator of how dangerous a city is, but there are other variables, said Scott Stewart, vice president of tactical intelligence for Stratfor, an Austin-based global intelligence company. "Safe for whom and safe from what?" he asked.
For now, we decided to focus on whether more lives have been lost in the war with drug cartels in Juarez than in the war in Afghanistan.
Regarding the death toll in Juarez, Jerry Strickland, Abbott's spokesman, sent us links to three news stories and two government websites enumerating those killed in the border city across from El Paso.
A Feb. 1 crime and safety report on Juarez posted on the federal Overseas Security Advisory Council website says that "although Mexican media and government sources offer varying crime statistics, most sources report at least 2,640 murders committed in and around the city in 2009, up from 1,600 in 2008 and 300 in 2007 ... Violent crime is part of everyday life in Ciudad Juarez. However, the surge in homicides has mostly involved fighting between cartels and street gangs, or between cartels and security forces. Victims without direct involvement in organized crime represent only a small percentage of overall homicides."
From a July 13 Reuters story: "The daily killings have become so normal they have almost ceased to shock. Unless Mexico's Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, Texas, bucks all previous indicators and undergoes a dramatic security turnaround, the death toll from the drug war raging in the city since January 2008 will reach 6,000 people this month. That is more than all the dead serving in the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan."
And McClatchy, citing the Diario newspaper in Juarez, reported in June that between January and June 27, the death toll rose to 1,363, up from 871 during that same period in 2009, and 520 in 2008.
Relying on that information, Strickland told us that more than 5,733 people have been killed since January 2008.
Stewart, at Stratfor, had slightly different numbers: 4,677 deaths in Juarez from January 2009 through August 2010.
So, it seems that since January 2008, at least 3,000 to 5,000 people at least have been killed in Juarez. Since deaths unrelated to drug violence were nominal, according to the Overseas Security Advisory Council, Abbott's figure on Fox — at least 2,400 killed in Juarez in connection with the cartels — sounds conservative.
What about Afghanistan?
Strickland pointed us to military death tolls for 2008-10 on CNN.com, which has mapped U.S. coalition casualties in Afghanistan by age, location and date. During 2008 and 2009, 808 were killed in Afghanistan, according to the site. As of Oct. 4, 542 people had been killed in 2010. However, Strickland said 239 were killed as of June 1, bringing total military deaths to about 1,50 troops when he made his claim on Fox in July.
Including civilian casualties tracked by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, we found that 5,880 were killed in Afghanistan between 2008-10 — keeping in mind that our tally includes deaths that happened after Abbott made his statement. Abbott calculated 5,475 total casualties during the same time period.
But the war in Afghanistan has lasted much longer than three years — the United States invaded in October 2001.
When we asked Abbott's office why he limited the number killed in Afghanistan from 2008 to date, Strickland said it was an "apples to apples comparison in terms of time frame."
That might be so, but Abbott flatly told Van Susteren that more lives have been lost in the war with drug cartels in Juarez than have been lost in the war in Afghanistan. Just because the violence in Mexico surged in the past couple years isn't reason to disregard those killed in Afghanistan prior to 2008.
According to the U.S. Department of Defense, as of Sept. 27, 1,291 Americans had been killed as a result of the war in Afghanistan, including two civilian casualties, and 94 who were killed outside of Afghanistan. According to the CNN page that Strickland cites, 2,115 U.S. troops and coalition forces have been killed since 2001 (11 were killed that year).
Stewart suggested we check iCasualties.org, a website that tracks military casualties, for a fuller picture of total deaths in Afghanistan: that tally was 2,128 when we looked at the site Oct. 4.
Next, we looked at United Nations' data for civilian casualties since 2007, the earliest record we found. About 1,520 civilians died that year — about 6,050 since 2007.
So even with limited information on how many civilians have been killed in Afghanistan, it seems at least 8,000 people have died as a result of the war since 2001.
Where does that leave us?
By Abbott's calculation, cobbled from various news and government reports, 258 more people were killed in Juarez than in Afghanistan between 2008 and this past summer, when Abbott appeared on Fox. But that's not what he said. He said more people have died as result of the drug war in Juarez, dating a couple years back, than have died as a result of the war in Afghanistan. That war started in 2001, and far as we can tell, more people have died from it.
We rate Abbott's statement False.