US Troop Deaths in Afghanistan Under Obama Pass 1500
Since President Obama took office, the war in Afghanistan has claimed the lives of over 1500 US troops, according to Just Foreign Policy's US Deaths in Afghanistan: Obama vs. Bush counter, which draws on data provided by iCasualties. By comparison, 575 US troops died during President Bush's two terms.
The rise in troop deaths during President Obama's presidency has not been altogether surprising given the administration's strategy in Afghanistan. In 2009, President Obama oversaw not one but two offensive surges, each of which added about 33,000 troops to the roughly 34,000 that were deployed in the country when he took office. By August 2010, more troops had died in Afghanistan under President Obama's command than during President Bush's seven years at the helm. By October 2011, that figure had doubled.
In June 2011, President Obama announced that 33,000 troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the fall of 2012, and that the Afghans would "take the lead" for their own security by the close of 2014. At the end of September, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta declared that the redeployment of one of Obama's two "surge" groups had been completed. Around the same time, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) issued a report assessing the success of the offensive "surge" by comparing the number of Taliban-initiated attacks over the last four years. The ISAF concluded that the "surge" had been a success since these sorts of attacks have been on the decline over the last two years. But as Wired's Spencer Ackerman points out, Taliban attacks have actually risen from their pre-surge numbers, thus calling into question the effectiveness of President Obama's offensive.
At present, there are roughly 68,000 US troops left in Afghanistan. President Obama has said that he plans to leave a residual force in the country after 2014 in order to continue training and supporting the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), as well as to conduct counterterrorism missions. The magnitude of this residual force, and how quickly US troops will be drawn down to their post-2014 numbers, has yet to be determined.
But an answer to one of these questions may be imminent. Secretary Panetta told the press in November that the White House is currently considering multiple proposals for post-2014 troop numbers, and a decision is expected within the next few weeks. Reports have suggested a possible residual force of anywhere between 6,000 and over 25,000 US troops.
No matter what decision the White House makes, however, the US's post-2014 military plans will not be finalized until the US and Afghanistan conclude negotiations on a Bilateral Security Agreement, which will determine the terms under which US troops continue their presence in Afghanistan, including whether US troops will retain immunity from Afghan law. The US and Afghan governments have until May to reach an agreement.
The determination of a post-2014 residual force will still leave open the question of how quickly the remaining 68,000 US troops in Afghanistan will be drawn down to their post-2014 numbers. This issue has become a source of contention between the Pentagon and others in Washington, and has even pitted the House against the Senate.
In his June 2011 announcement, President Obama promised to remove US troops from Afghanistan "at a steady pace" between 2012 and the end of 2014. But General John Allen, who is the head of the International Security Assistance Force, is reportedly pushing to retain over 60,000 US troops in Afghanistan until after the 2013 fighting season has concluded. Earlier this year, the House inserted General Allen's request to maintain a "significant combat presence through 2013" into the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act and went one step further by calling upon the President to put off any further troop redeployments from Afghanistan until the end of 2014 "unless fewer forces can achieve United States objectives." But just two weeks ago, the Senate backed an amendment to the same act contradicting the House's language by calling on President Obama to continue withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan at a steady pace as he promised, to end all regular US combat missions in Afghanistan no later than December 31, 2014, and to "take all possible steps" to end such operations earlier.
One question that has not received much public attention is what the US hopes to achieve by its continued military presence in Afghanistan. Arguments for keeping a large residual force in the country after 2014, and for delaying redeployments between now and the end of 2014, assume that holding the offensive gains made during Obama's second "surge" is essential to the US mission in Afghanistan. But some experts, including the Afghanistan Study Group, challenge this assumption, and call for a narrowing of the US mission in Afghanistan and for a more accelerated drawdown. Many experts also acknowledge that the situation in the most volatile regions of Afghanistan—in the south, where Obama staged his offensive, and in the east, which has gone largely ignored—will not be ameliorated unless waring factions come to a political reconcilliation. The United States, however, has not been effective in promoting this path.
Meanwhile, public opinion has become increasingly resistant to further drawing out what is already the United State's longest war. A March 2012 Gallop poll reported 50% of Americans in favor of withdrawing all US troops before 2014, with an additional 24% favoring a full withdrawal by the end of 2014. An October 2012 Pew poll found an even greater majority in favor of an accelerated withdrawal: 60% of Americans said they wanted US troops removed from Afghanistan as soon as possible, while only 35% support leaving US troops there "until the situation stabilizes."
But for now, the war goes on.
To learn more about the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, visit our Countdown to Drawdown.