No one doubts that our partners in the coalitions in both Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered losses on the battlefield, and of course every loss is tragic. However, Barack Obama tells NBC’s Brian Williams that Americans have ignored the “serious losses” that NATO allies have taken in Afghanistan, scolding us for our lack of appreciation for their effort. Unfortunately, this dumbs down the definition of serious to such a degree that our losses look positively catastrophic:
At the same time, he said Americans also had to slough off their false impressions of their European allies.
“Americans have a tendency to characterize Europeans as effete or unwilling to shoulder the necessary burdens for freedom when you’ve got a lot of coalition forces in Afghanistan who have taken serious losses,” Obama said.
“Hopefully, we can move beyond some of those stereotypes and recognize that we remain bound together by a set of values: a belief in freedom, democracy, markets, rule of law, human and civil rights,” Obama said. “That coalition of ideas and values is what’s necessary for us to solve transnational problems of the 21st century, like climate change, terrorism, genocide and poverty.”
Jim Geraghty takes a look at the numbers:
The European country with the most casualties by far is Great Britain; their forces have suffered 111 fatalities, and upwards of 900 combat injuries of varying degree. Of those deaths, 68 are classified KIA and eight are attributed to “injuries sustained from Action.” (Other deaths include accidents, non-combat incidents, etc.)
Let’s include Canada as part of this exercise, even though they’re not technically Europeans. They have had 88 fatalities, 75 of which are attributed to “hostile circumstances,” which includes bombs, etc.
The next highest are Germany (25 fatalities, 14 KIA); Spain (23 fatalities, 4, but this total does not include 62 who died in a plane crash returning from the region); Netherlands (16 fatalities, 11 KIA); Denmark (16 fatalities, 15 in “hostile engagement,” the highest proportional to the national population); France (12 fatalities, 9 KIA) and Italy (12 fatalities, 7 KIA). Beyond that, casualties of the past seven years include seven Romanians, five Polish, three Czech, three Estonian, three Norwegian, two Hungarian, two Portuguese, two Swedish, one Finnish, and one Lithuanian. Most of these countries have been active in the country since 2001.
Did Obama study history at all? We lost more in a single battle to begin the Atlantic campaign in World War II than all of these nations combined: 1500 men at Kassarine Pass, a disaster that forced the American Army to shake up its Africa command. The Canadians lost a similar number at Dieppe in 1943. We lost tens of thousands in the Philippines in 1941, and tens of thousands in the march up the island chain from 1942 to 1945.
Those are “serious losses”. We’ve lost around 4,000 troops in Iraq over the last five years, and while relatively speaking those aren’t serious in terms of combat readiness, it’s orders of magnitude over the losses in Afghanistan from these nations.
And why? Because most of them don’t contribute to the combat effort, and specifically have reinforced that stance even while Obama spoke in Europe this week. France has added several hundred special forces to the combat lines this year in order to keep Canada in the alliance, but Germany refuses to allow their troops to share the combat burden. Americans can be excused from being less than impressed with the show of commitment from our NATO partners on the fight they claim to support.
If Obama considers these “serious losses”, then he’s even less ready to run the military than anyone anticipated.