A helicopter crash in Zabul near Qandahar in southern Afghanistan left 9 American troops dead and 3 other persons (one an American civlian) wounded. The troops were likely a special operations unit aiming to reduce the power of the Taliban in the outskirts of this major city. NATO denied Taliban claims to have shot down the helicopter with rocket propelled grenades, saying that there was no evidence that the vehicle came under fire.
With a later death of another US soldier, the death toll for the year rose to 530 NATO troops. The NYT reports that violence for the preceding quarter is up 69% in Afghanistan during the past year, and roadside bombings are up 82%. Suicide bombings have doubled, and assassinations by sniper have also increased greatly.
While it is true that the troop casualties in Afghanistan and the scale of the insurgency are much less than in Iraq at the height of the war there, it is also indisputable that the depth, breadth and violence of the insurgency in Afghanistan is far great in summer 2010 than it had been in summer 2009. You want to look at trends, not just snapshots. Moreover, many US troops have suffered through multiple rotations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and are fatigued. That is, looking at the current Afghanistan statistics in a vacuum disregards the lived experience of US troops and the toll that multiple long rotations are taking on them and their families.
Pajhwok News Agency reports that there are still an estimated 1,000 illegal armed cells in Afghanistan, five years after the Afghanistan government formed a Ministry of Defense unit, the Disarmament of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG). Although it has captured 50,000 weapons and rolled up 730 major and twice that many small militant cells, DIAG still faces 1000 armed outlaw bands. DIAG says that 100 districts had been pacified, though its spokesman could not guarantee that any of those rendered peaceful had not been subject to backsliding.
Meanwhile, the NYT says it has seen an advance copy of Bob Woodward’s new book on Obama’s wars. It reports that special envoy Richard Holbrooke does not believe that the big counter-insurgency strategy can succeed. There is also an allegation that President Hamid Karzai may suffer from bipolar disorder. Finally, the book argues that Obama is deadly serious about withdrawing from AFghanistan beginning summer 2011, and that Gen. David Petraeus is fooling himself if he thinks he can convince Obama to give him more time. Obama is said to have remarked, “I can’t lose the whole Democratic Party.” He thought he had two years to wrap up Afghanistan before the public turned against him. He probably miscalculated.