Iraq combat operations over?
June has been the worst month for US troops in two years. And violence is surging in Afghanistan.
In Pictures Troops come home
The Arab League observer mission in Syria is likely to fail
Egypt's military rulers crack down on democracy groups
Iran's threats over Strait of Hormuz? Understandable, but not easy
Eastern Libya poll indicates political Islam will closely follow democracy
Iraq's Maliki threatens, Sunnis grumble, and Baghdad goes boom
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The war itself feels all but ignored by the general public here at home. On the desk at the Monitor, Internet traffic is our lifeblood and we follow how many "hits" individual stories receive. For at least a year now, it's felt like all our Iraq stories – whether features with strong, unique reporting; analysis pieces on the security situation; or simply straightforward accounts of a major bombing or political meeting – can't get any traction at all.
Yet, this month has been the deadliest for US troops in Iraq in two years.
So far, 15 US troops have died in country, all but one of them victims of combat incidents. According to iCasualties.org, a group that tracks combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, that's the worst month since May 2009, when 25 were killed. This month's deaths were in at least five provinces.
The deaths have come despite (some would say because of) a dramatically reduced American presence.
At this time two years ago, there were about 150,000 soldiers and Marines in Iraq. The surge had just crested then, and the horrific levels of violence in Iraq – the sprawling sectarian war that claimed tens of thousands of lives – were a thing of the past.
Draw down in Afghanistan
Well, in Afghanistan the surge has just crested. President Obama wants to draw down troops between now and the end of next summer, though there will still be almost 70,000 in Afghanistan after the current plans has been carried out. Meanwhile, the violence in Afghanistan is surging, too. The suicide attack that claimed 20 lives (nine of them attackers) at the InterContinental Hotel this week was a reminder that even relatively safe Kabul is not immune.
Overall, 201 US troops have died in Afghanistan this year (there have been 79 deaths for other NATO member forces), which already makes this year the third deadliest of the 10-year war (there were 499 US deaths last year and 317 in 2009).
The situation has been far worse for Afghan civilians. The UN reports 1,090 civilian deaths in Afghanistan and 1,860 injuries from the war in the past three months, a 20 percent increase over the same three month period last year. Over 80 percent of the casualties were attributed to "anti-government" attacks.
Key to ending all this are ongoing peace talks between the Afghan and US government, on the one hand, and the Taliban, on the other. Afghan society is badly fractured, both ethnically and ideologically, and has been living with war of one sort or another for decades. Reconciliation is a key element behind ending the war and reducing violence there.