The US military reported the lowest level of casualties in both theaters of war in over five years of fighting. The news from Iraq comes as no surprise, as violence has rapidly declined since the surge and some units have yet to fire a weapon in anger during their tour. Afghanistan, though, comes as a much bigger surprise:
U.S. combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan last month dropped to the lowest combined level since the United States began fighting the two wars more than five years ago.
Eleven American servicemembers died in combat in the conflicts in November. Seven others died in non-hostile incidents. The highest monthly total for combat deaths in both wars was 129 in November 2004.
Security in Iraq has improved dramatically over the past year, despite a number of high-profile bombing against civilian targets in recent weeks. …
Afghanistan is a more complicated picture. There was only one U.S. combat death in November, the lowest level since February. However, 11 other coalition troops died there last month.
Throughout the presidential campaign, we heard nothing but gloomy, pessimistic analyses of the effort in Afghanistan, and not without some justification. Michael Yon, who is there now, confirms that NATO has let the momentum slip through its fingers and that the Karzai government has lost some credibility due to corruption in Kabul. The US commanders on the ground want 20,000 more troops as a start, one of the few points of agreement between Barack Obama and John McCain on war policy.
This, however, makes it look as though the prospects aren’t quite so bleak. Taliban activity has been blunted, apparently due to the stepped-up efforts of the Pakistani military. American attacks across the border began increasing several months ago, and USA Today quotes a brigade commander who says he’s seen a decline in attacks over that same period. Winter plays a role in this, too, but even in comparion with other winters, that’s a low number for casualties in the war zone.
We still have a lot of work to do, and we need more troops and a bigger commitment to infrastructural missions to accomplish it. Perhaps, though, the outlook isn’t quite as bleak as believed, and our aggressive strategies and tactics have created some space for success.