August 2, 2010
At midnight last night, the United States formally recorded its most lethal month in the seemingly endless war in Afghanistan. Some 66 servicemen died – at least two a day, every day, for 31 days. That was July. June was the deadliest for the coalition as a whole, and the first six months of 2010 were among the bloodiest for civilians since records began in 2007. What will August bring? Or September and October, months which, General David Petraeus, the US commander, has warned may well bring even more intense fighting? By that time, the war will have gone into its 10th year, and so will move towards, and beyond, the landmark when it will have lasted longer than the First and Second World Wars combined.
- A d v e r t i s e m e n t
It is, especially for the Afghan people, a war without end, and one to add to their history of other fruitless conflicts. An Independent on Sunday assessment, using records kept by Professor Marc Herold of the University of New Hampshire and the UN, puts the civilians killed as a direct result of the war since 2001 at 13,746. Last year, the toll of those who died directly or indirectly was estimated by another US academic to be as high as 32,000.
Meanwhile, the US continues to pile in troops. American strength stands at about 95,000, and by the end of August the figure is expected to swell to 100,000 – three times the number in early 2009. As a result, US commanders have been stepping up the fight against the insurgents in their longtime strongholds such as the Arghandab Valley, Panjwaii and Zhari – all on the outskirts of Kandahar city, the biggest urban area in the ethnic Pashtun south, and the Taliban’s spiritual birthplace, where support for the insurgency runs deep.
The death of innocent civilians, whether by accident or design, goes some way towards explaining why the coalition is failing to win hearts and minds. A compelling example of the depth to which some Afghans are opposed to what they view as a foreign occupation is the incident where an American patrol was lured into a deadly ambush by villagers in Ganjigal, eastern Afghanistan, in September last year. Four US soldiers died. A report says soldiers stated: “They had eyewitness accounts of children in the village firing at the CF ground unit… and women assisting to resupply ammunition.”