Friday, August 06, 2010

British Casualties in Afghanistan: Updated data posted for first half of 2010

An updated analysis of casualty data for British forces in Afghanistan has now been posted. Total UK casualties now stand at 1,464 for the first 6 months of 2010. The data shows that casualties fell to a relatively low level in April but then climbed steeply to the second highest monthly toll in May and remained elevated in June.

Since the last data update in April there have been a series of high profile developments in the war. 
In brief:
General McChrystal is relived of command by the US President and replaced by General Petraeus in early July. Some commentators see this as an indication of a more general crisis around the state of the war [MOD, Politico]. Perhaps as a much needed moral raiser, the Pentagon chooses to release information on potential earnings from mineral deposits; offering the possibility of additional long-term financial and strategic rewards for staying the course [Times].

British troops pull out of Sangin and are replaced by US forces. A comparison with the British pull out form Basra in Iraq is made but rejected in public by the US [Guardian].  Early July sees an upsurge in attacks by the Taliban (the resulting casualty spike will be reflected in the next data update). Another attack by an Afghan government soldier results in the deaths of three British troops. Whether this is a pre-planned special operation by the Taliban or a more spontaneous defection remains unclear [AFP].

The British government announces an increase of 40% in their hearts and minds aid funding for Afghanistan; part of an attempt to ensure that British combat troops will leave Afghanistan by 2014. However, the Defence Secretary also warns of an expected spike in casualties [BBC, Reuters].

The release of thousands of US military reports on the war by Wikileaks leads to further details emerging about the conduct of the war and helps, in part, to illustrate why civilian casualties have been so high [Casualty Monitor].  The Wikileaks incident appears to precipitate a diplomatic exchange between the British Prime Minister and the Pakistan over the ambiguous role of Pakistan in the conflict. During a subsequent visit to Europe by the Pakistan Prime Minister states that the US coalition is losing the war in Afghanistan [BBC].

Finally, in late July the British launch Operation Tor Shezada, their latest attempt to sustainably secure territory from the Taliban. By early August they are claiming success due to troops entering the town of Sayedabad [MOD].
The first half of 2010 also saw the release of new research on the British casualty burden in Afghanistan. Analysis by the Medical Research Council's biostatistics unit at the University of Cambridge showed that the rate at which British soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan is almost four times that of their US counterparts, and double the rate which is officially classified as "major combat".  They also found that the death rate of UK troops is twice that of 2006 [Guardian, MRC].
More information also emerged on the level of Afghan casualties and attempts to document these.  These important developments will be the subject of a future posting.