War’s deadliest month deals blow to coalition
KABUL, Afghanistan – As the Afghan war’s bloodiest month for Western forces drew to a close Wednesday, the widening scope and relentless tempo of battlefield casualties pointed to a formidable challenge for U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, the incoming commander.
At least 102 coalition troops were killed in June in Afghanistan, according to the independent website icasualties.org, far surpassing the previous monthly record of 77 military fatalities in August 2009.
In a reflection of the increasingly American face of the war as the summer’s troop surge presses ahead, at least 60 of those killed were U.S. service members. Among the fatalities was Marine Cpl. Joshua R. Dumaw of Spokane Valley, who was killed June 22 during operations in the Nimruz province.
Buried bombs, or improvised explosive devices, continued to cause the preponderance of fatalities, despite what the military had described as some success using electronic surveillance to spot insurgents planting bombs and to stage raids on IED-producing rings.
But a plethora of other hazards have pushed to the fore. Firefights, helicopter crashes, ambushes, sniper fire and complex coordinated assaults – such as Wednesday’s failed attempt by insurgents to fight their way onto NATO’s largest air base in eastern Afghanistan – also exacted a significant toll in deaths and injuries.
As the pattern of fatalities shows, it is a war with a widening geographical reach. The country’s east and south, the traditional Taliban strongholds, predictably saw the heaviest fighting, but a swath of the north became increasingly restive as well.
In a far-flung country with relatively few passable roads, NATO’s war effort relies heavily on helicopters. Two of them crashed in June, killing a total of eight troops. One of the choppers was shot down by Taliban fighters in Helmand province, a formerly rare feat but a capability that may be assuming a more prominent place in the insurgents’ arsenal.
Nearly nine years into the war, the NATO coalition is showing signs of strain, and in troop-contributing nations a spike in military deaths invariably fuels public debate.
In Britain, the most important U.S. partner in Afghanistan, skepticism about the necessity of the war is becoming entrenched. The country marked a grim and much-noticed milestone in June when a Royal Marine killed in Helmand province became the 300th British military fatality in Afghanistan.
In countries with smaller troop contingents, the shock wave from war deaths tends to be magnified.
Norway, which has about 500 troops in Afghanistan, suffered its largest single-day battlefield loss since World War II when four of its soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb on Sunday in the north. Until then, the Norwegian death toll for the war had been five.
Another ally, Australia, was disproportionately hard hit by four troop deaths in June, three of them elite commandos killed in a helicopter crash in Kandahar. Those losses represented one-quarter of Australia’s total war dead in Afghanistan.