Attrition: Why Not 5,000 American Dead In Afghanistan?


February 24, 2010: Nearly a thousand American troops have died in Afghanistan since U.S. forces first entered in October, 2001. Often compared to Vietnam, Afghanistan has been a much smaller operation, with ten times as many American troops serving in Vietnam. But 58 times as many American troops died in Vietnam. That means that American troops in Vietnam were nearly six times as likely to get killed than those in Afghanistan.

The reasons for all this are pretty simple. It's a combination of  better equipment, tactics, weapons, leadership and training than in the past. With an all-volunteer force, the troops are smarter and more physically fit. Many of the life-saving innovations U.S. troops have come up with in the past eight years have not gotten much publicity. Good news doesn't sell, but in this case, it has definitely saved lives.

Some may think that Vietnam is not a fair comparison to the fighting in Afghanistan. OK, consider that while Russia was fighting in Afghanistan in the 1980s, they lost 15,000 dead. But they had four times more troops serving there, compared to the U.S. (so far). That means that Russian troops in the 1980s were nearly four times as likely to die.

There were other differences as well. During the 1980s, the Russians killed over a million Afghans, and drove nearly a third of the population into exile (mainly in Pakistan, but also in Iran.) Most of the civilians killed because of military action since 2001 have been victims of the Taliban, and total deaths were less than 20,000. Millions of Afghans returned from exile during this period. While the Afghan GDP declined during the Russian occupation, the Afghan economy has grown every year during the American presence.


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