Afghanistan — Casualties Show Tough Week in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, June 9, 2010 — It has been a tough week in Afghanistan with 23 ser­vice­mem­bers killed in attacks since Mon­day, includ­ing four killed when their heli­copter was shot down in Hel­mand province today.

Oper­a­tional tem­po for NATO Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Forces in Afghanistan is at an all-time high.

“There are more ISAF forces [in Afghanistan] than at any oth­er time, so the lev­el of activ­i­ty is high and I think as we con­duct our oper­a­tions and engage with the ene­my, obvi­ous­ly the oppor­tu­ni­ties for hos­tile con­tact have gone up,” Pen­ta­gon spokesman Bryan Whit­man said today.

There now are about 94,000 U.S. ser­vice­mem­bers in Afghanistan with 48,000 allies. The num­ber of U.S. troops in Afghanistan will grow to about 98,000 by Sep­tem­ber. The num­ber of NATO and oth­er allied troops also will increase.

NATO troops are enter­ing areas in Afghanistan where they pre­vi­ous­ly have not been. In cas­es such as in Mar­ja, Hel­mand province, the Tal­iban had estab­lished a shad­ow gov­ern­ment to rule the area and intim­i­date the peo­ple.

The oncom­ing sum­mer sea­son is the tra­di­tion­al bat­tle time in Afghanistan. Win­ter is over and snow has melt­ed in the pass­es. Crops have been sown and – in the case of pop­pies – har­vest­ed.

“We have active oper­a­tions going on in Afghanistan and we have more forces there than we’ve ever had,” Whit­man said. “It is a peri­od of time in which you’ll see the Tal­iban try to con­duct their own oper­a­tions. While we con­duct our oper­a­tions care­ful­ly and try to mit­i­gate the risk in all our oper­a­tions, the fact of the mat­ter is that we have tak­en casu­al­ties and we’ve tak­en quite a few this week. It’s been a tough week.”

U.S. and NATO com­man­ders have stressed the impor­tance of the civil­ian com­po­nent in oper­a­tions in Afghanistan. Civil­ian experts are key to eco­nom­ic and gov­ern­men­tal progress. The num­ber of civil­ian experts in Afghanistan has risen and they are pro­vid­ing the advice and guid­ance the coun­try needs. For exam­ple, the U.S. State Depart­ment has more peo­ple in Afghanistan than it ever has, Whit­man said.

“If you talk to our mil­i­tary com­man­ders, they are hav­ing a sig­nif­i­cant impact,” he said. “We final­ly have some much more robust resources in that regard and they are hav­ing an effect.”

The strat­e­gy in Afghanistan takes into con­sid­er­a­tion the dif­fer­ences among the dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try. For exam­ple, Kan­da­har is a large city with a diverse pop­u­la­tion. It was the spir­i­tu­al home of the Tal­iban and the home of Mul­lah Omar, the Tal­iban chief. Mar­ja is a rur­al agri­cul­tur­al cen­ter.

Con­se­quent­ly, there are dif­fer­ences between the kinds of actions con­duct­ed in Mar­ja, and those under­way in Kan­da­har. Each oper­a­tion is assessed by bat­tle­field com­man­ders and the actions they take are dic­tat­ed by the sit­u­a­tion on the ground.

How­ev­er, the over­all strat­e­gy of clear, hold and build applies to oper­a­tions con­duct­ed in both Kan­da­har and Mar­ja. This means that in both places the idea is to clear the area of the Tal­iban, hold the area so the group can­not get back in, and build the eco­nom­ic struc­ture.

How this occurs will be tai­lored to the spe­cif­ic area. Offi­cials con­tin­ue to say there will not be a “D-Day” for mil­i­tary oper­a­tions in Kan­da­har. In fact, the offen­sive against the Tal­iban there is under­way.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)