August deadliest month for U.S. in Afghanistan
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NEW DELHI -- Sixty-seven U.S. troops died last month in the Afghanistan war, nearly half of them killed when the Taliban shot down a Chinook helicopter, making August the deadliest month for Americans in the nearly decade-long conflict.
In Iraq, meanwhile, under increased U.S. pressure, a crackdown on Iranian-backed Shiite militias by the Baghdad government has helped produce a previously elusive goal: For the first time since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, an entire month has passed without a single U.S. service member dying.
The helicopter attack, which happened Aug. 6 in eastern Afghanistan, was also the deadliest single event of that war for U.S. forces. The 30 service members who died in that attack, mostly Navy SEALs and many from the same unit responsible for killing Osama bin Laden, were flying in to help Army Rangers under fire.
The most deadly previous month for U.S. forces in Afghanistan was in July 2010 when 65 died, according to the independent website iCasualties.org, which tracks casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There were no U.S. or coalition casualties in Afghanistan on Thursday, the first day of September, according to initial reports. Eight insurgents were killed in southern Kandahar province when a bomb they were making exploded in a house, according to regional officials.
The August deaths bring the total number of Americans killed so far in the Afghan war to 1,754, according to iCasualties.org. That compares with 380 for Britain and 157 for Canada, the countries with the next two highest totals.
Aside from the helicopter attack, August was not a particularly bad month on the ground for U.S. troops, analysts said. This was due in part to the monthlong Muslim holiday of Ramadan, when most insurgents fast during the day, making them less likely to attack.
Insurgents are also aware that the United States and its coalition partners are winding down, although analysts said this can work both ways. It may prompt some fighters to bide their time, knowing that the departure will happen anyway, while others may step up attacks in a bid to accelerate the exit or claim credit for driving out Western forces.
In June, President Barack Obama announced that 10,000 U.S. troops would leave this year and an additional 23,000 would leave by next summer, in advance of a 2014 deadline to fully hand over security to the Afghans. This initial U.S. withdrawal, equivalent to the extra troops the president had ordered to Afghanistan, would leave 68,000 U.S. troops on the ground after next summer.
Mr. Obama paid homage to those killed Tuesday in Minneapolis. "As our mission transitions from combat to support, Afghans will take responsibility for their own security and the longest war in American history will come to a responsible end," he said at the American Legion's convention. "For our troops and military families who have sacrificed so much, this means relief from an unrelenting decade of operations."
Roadside bombs continue to be the big killer of foreign troops, accounting for almost 52 percent of the Afghanistan casualties so far this year, according to iCasualties.org. Over half of all coalition deaths annually have been attributed to these deadly devices since insurgents stepped up their use in 2008.
First Published September 2, 2011 12:00 am