Afghan War Fatalities — Still High
By Taylor Marvin
Over at Plain Blog, Bernstein eyes casualty figures from Afghanistan:
“There, the big (and continuing) news is that coalition and American deaths have really leveled off over the last seven months — January ended with the first year-to-year decrease in coalition fatalities in years, so that’s the news peg, but the larger story is that the trend has been flat now for more than half a year. From the narrow point of view of electoral politics (that is, in the US), I’m fairly confident that this is the thing to keep an eye on; if casualties drop some, it will give Barack Obama a lot more flexibility to do whatever he wants over there. Of course, it’s not just about US politics — the higher the death toll, the harder it will be to keep coalition partners on board, because the same calculations figure in other democracies, as well.”
I think this is a bit optimistic. It’s true that coalition fatalities have leveled off in the last seven months after four years of drastic increases. But fatalities have leveled off at near the highest level they’ve ever been. Summer 2010 was particularly awful, and this winter has notably not seen a large fall from summer season deaths. Since combat is usually much less frequent during the Afghan winter this is troubling. While this past January is the first month to see a year-to-year fall in coalition casualties there isn’t much reason to see this as anything but an insignificant blip, especially considering that the months of November and December 2010 were both by far the most deadly they’ve ever been. It is worth noting that even with the current rise Afghanistan fatalities are a fraction of what American deaths in Iraq were at their worst, and President Bush retained the freedom to set most his own Iraq policy until the end of his tenure, so presidential flexibility to dictate war policy probably isn’t that related to actual casualty counts.