WASHINGTON – U.S. troop deaths in Afghanistan, which reached record highs in the last two months, will continue climbing, a top U.S. military commander warned Wednesday, because the military is trying to oust the Taliban from places they have never been challenged before.
“We are going into places that have been significant support bases for the Taliban for the past several years,” Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, the No. 2 commander in Afghanistan, told reporters in a video teleconference briefing at the Pentagon. “And they’re going to fight hard for those, and that’s why we expect the casualties to go up.”
Rodriguez was the first commander to comment about the state of the war since his former boss, Afghan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal, was forced to resign last month over derogatory comments he and his staff made in a Rolling Stone magazine piece. President Barack Obama named U.S. Central Command commander Gen. David Petraeus as his replacement and Petraeus officially took command July 4.
With growing concerns among Afghans and U.S. lawmakers alike about the state of the war, Rodriguez assured that Afghanistan was on the right track despite rising U.S. troop deaths, rampant corruption, growing ethnic tensions, a stalled offensive in Kandahar, a doubtful political solution and a looming July 2011 deadline to show progress.
He said he did not anticipate a change in strategy with Petraeus’ arrival, calling it a personnel change. Rather, he said there was an “upward trajectory” toward establishing security in southern Afghanistan, the focus of recent U.S. efforts.
Rodriguez said increased U.S. casualties should not be interpreted as Afghan regions falling back into the hands of the Taliban.
Instead, “This is a contest of will and a contest of threat and intimidation versus people who are going to stand up for themselves and their government, and then the security forces who are charged with protecting the Afghan people,” he said.
There were 94 U.S. fatalities in May and June, which account for about 8 percent of U.S. fatalities since the 2001 invasion. July has already seen 13 U.S. fatalities.