Long since eclipsed by Iraq, the Afghan conflict, known to the military as Operation Enduring Freedom, has often been relegated to the back pages of the newspaper.
Even as it has faded from view, however, the war has grown ever deadlier, President Barack Obama said in a speech to government officials and military officers at the White House on March 27, 2009.
"It's been more than seven years since the Taliban was removed from power, yet war rages on, and insurgents control parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan," Obama said, announcing the deployment of 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan. "Attacks against our troops, our NATO allies, and the Afghan government have risen steadily. And most painfully, 2008 was the deadliest year of the war for American forces."
We wondered if that was true and checked the latest Pentagon statistics . Indeed, U.S. military deaths numbered 155 in 2008, which is the highest since the war began in 2001.
The number of U.S. deaths has increased almost every year, with two exceptions. The year-to-year fatality count, from 2001 to 2008, is: 11, 48, 45, 52, 98, 98, 117, 155.
In the first two months of 2009, there were 30 U.S. military deaths, putting this year on pace to be the deadliest yet.
We looked for any indication that this statistic was unrepresentative of the conditions in Afghanistan. Quite the contrary — it is one of several measures by which the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated.
The number of U.S. military personnel wounded in action has also increased every year, from 33 in 2001 to 790 in 2008, totaling 2,713.
Military deaths of personnel from the 21 other outside countries involved in the conflict have increased every year since 2004, to a peak so far of 139 in 2008 (and 2009 is on pace to surpass that).
Afghan civilian casualties hit a high mark too last year, with 2,118 civilians killed, up from 1,523 in 2007, according to the United Nations.
In testimony to the House Armed Services Committee in September, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Taliban and al-Qaida fighters are coordinating better from safe havens in Pakistan and launching "ever more sophisticated, even infantry-like attacks against fixed coalition positions."
"I'm not convinced we're winning it in Afghanistan," Mullen said.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the committee Afghanistan was in some ways a more complex challenge than Iraq. "We don't have a single adversary," he said. "We have the Taliban, we have the Gulbuddin Hekmatyar group, we have the Haqqani network, we have narco-thugs, we have al-Qaida, we have foreign fighters."
So Obama's claim is not only technically correct, but also accurately reflects the deteriorating security conditions in Afghanistan. We find his claim to be True.
GlobalSecurity.org, Remarks by the President on a New Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan , March 27, 2009, accessed March 30, 2009
Icasualties.org, Operation Enduring Freedom , accessed March 30, 3009
U.S. Department of Defense, Military Casualty Information , accessed March 30, 2009
New York Times, Afghan Civilian Deaths Rose 40 Percent in 2008 , Feb. 17, 2009
United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan, Annual Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, 2008 , January 2009, accessed March 30, 2009
Federal News Service, Hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, Sept. 10, 2008
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