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More troops lost to roadside bombs: a familiar pattern

As fighting intensifies in Afghanistan, July fatalities so far are higher than for all of June.

By Gordon LuboldStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 14, 2009



Washington

The Taliban and other militants in Afghanistan are turning to a familiar tool to try to kill more Americans and allied troops: the roadside bomb.

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Allied troops reported 736 IED incidents last month, up from 234 in June 2007, according to the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, a Defense Department group. "Incidents" include bombs that detonate and are effective, as well as bombs that are found and cleared and those that detonate but are not injurious.

So far this year, 107 American service members have been killed in Afghanistan – compared with 155 for all of 2008, according to the website icasualties.org. Last month, there were 38 coalition fatalities, but so far in July, not yet half over, there have already been 40. British forces have lost 15 soldiers in the past 11 days.

"Certainly when we mount operations like this, we are going to take casualties," Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the top uniformed officer of the British military, told reporters in Washington Monday.

More violence before less?

As the US "surges" more than 21,000 additional troops into Afghanistan and commanders stage more combat operations, officials expected the increased fighting to yield more casualties. A major combat operation by US marines and British forces operating in southern Afghanistan is under way now.

The Pentagon has been at a similar point before. When the Defense Department sent an additional 20,000 US troops to Iraq in the spring of 2007, the number of American deaths soared to 126 in May, about the time all surge brigades were in place. Critics of the surge policy under President Bush, citing the rising number of fatalities, argued at the time that the surge was a mistake. Ultimately, American forces were able to reduce violence before the surge ended. Afghanistan's own surge may follow a similar path – more violence before less – because of the many similarities between the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"When you first arrive, you run into some opposition, though the greater challenges tend to come later – in the following weeks and months – as you try to maintain your presence and create a sense of security," says Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington.

Public impatience with war

The American public may not be in the mood to endure losses from a military surge all over again – despite President Obama's popularity and his vague mandate to address spiraling violence there. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, has said he expects that he has between 18 and 24 months to show improvement. Some experts say he has less time – maybe a year.

The Pentagon has shipped and fielded more than 2,600 Mine Resistant, Ambush Protected, or MRAP, vehicles to Afghanistan. Last month it signed a contract with Oshkosh Corp. for $1 billion to make a lighter, faster MRAP, called an M-ATV, that will be shipped there starting this fall, defense officials say.

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