Afghan war toll up again for US
5 more troops die in one day
KABUL, Afghanistan - Five US troops died in attacks in southern Afghanistan, military officials said yesterday, adding to this year’s record death toll for American forces in the country that once harbored Osama bin Laden.
The deaths occurred Thursday in a region where US forces have stepped up attacks on the Taliban and other insurgent groups.
The Obama administration is debating whether to further increase the 21,000 in additional US forces that began arriving in Afghanistan over the summer. Most of those have gone to the south, where they have been the target of roadside bombs and ambushes as they battle to take back Taliban-controlled areas.
The commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, told CBS that the strength of the militant group took him by surprise when he arrived this summer.
“I think that in some areas that the breadth of the violence, the geographic spread of violence, is a little more than I would have gathered,’’ he said in an interview to be broadcast tomorrow on “60 Minutes.’’
Yesterday, the Pentagon’s top military officer flew to Europe to talk to McChrystal about how many troops he needs to turn around the faltering campaign.
Two defense officials said Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staf, met McChrystal for a half day yesterday at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. The US commanders for NATO and the Middle East region also attended. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private conversation.
The officials said Mullen received McChrystal’s report on how many additional troops he is seeking. They declined to confirm what others have said privately for weeks: that McChrystal wants about 40,000 more.
This has been the deadliest year for American troops since the start of the 2001 invasion to oust the Islamic extremist Taliban. The five deaths announced yesterday bring to 214 the number of troops killed so far this year, well ahead of the 151 who died in 2008.
Four soldiers died Thursday in the same small district in southeastern Zabul Province. Three of them were killed when their Stryker armored vehicle detonated a bomb in its path, and the fourth was shot to death in an insurgent attack, said Lieutenant Robert Carr, a US military spokesman. The Stryker brigade arrived in Zabul as part of a surge to try to secure the region before Afghanistan’s Aug. 20 presidential election.
A US Marine was fatally shot Thursday while on foot patrol in southwestern Nimroz Province, said Captain Elizabeth Mathias, a military spokeswoman.
Yesterday, election officials agreed to recount results from a sample of 10 percent of polling stations with suspect results in a push to release long-delayed results before winter makes any runoff vote impossible. Though preliminary results show President Hamid Karzai winning, there are enough questionable ballots that the recounts could force him into a runoff with his top challenger.
About half of all Americans oppose increasing troop levels in Afghanistan, according to a poll released yesterday. The New York Times/CBS News poll found that only 29 percent of respondents believed the United States should add troops in Afghanistan, down from 42 percent in February. The survey, conducted Sept. 19-23, had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.
In a report to the White House, McChrystal said military commanders should be less preoccupied with minimizing dangers to their troops and send them out into Afghan communities more. He said taking a greater risk would save lives in the long run.