Afghan military and police forces had higher numbers of battlefield casualties in a “difficult and bloody summer” of fighting the Taliban insurgency, the American general overseeing the war said Thursday.
Army Gen. Joseph Votel, the commander of U.S. Central Command, told reporters at the Pentagon that the Afghan losses are “an area of important focus” for the newly installed U.S. commander in Kabul, Army Gen. Scott Miller. Votel did not say how many Afghan troops have been killed this year but noted that Afghan officials have said the casualties will not deter them.
Asked directly whether the number of Afghan casualties had increased this year over 2017, Votel said, “It’s my understanding that it is increasing.”
At the request of the Afghan government, the U.S. military command in Kabul does not publicly reveal numbers of Afghan combat losses. But Votel’s comments suggest the trend is worrisome, even if the Afghan government continues to insist that it can sustain this pace of casualties.
At the end of 2014, U.S. forces stopped taking a direct role in ground combat against the Taliban and shifted to what they call an advise-and-assist role. Since then, Afghan forces have taken heavy losses even though they outnumber the Taliban and are supported by U.S. forces. The Taliban benefit from sanctuary in parts of neighboring Pakistan.
Shortly before Votel began speaking by telephone from his headquarters in Tampa, Florida, Miller’s command announced that one American service member was killed in action in Afghanistan. The announcement provided no details, and Votel declined to say anything beyond calling it a combat loss.