The AFP reports that Afghan soldiers are dying five times faster than their ISAF counterparts:
Afghan security forces are dying at five times the rate of NATO soldiers as Taliban insurgents step up attacks ahead of the withdrawal of foreign troops in 2014, the latest figures show.
While deaths among NATO’s troops are regularly chronicled in the 50 countries that contribute soldiers to the war, the daily casualties among the Afghans they are fighting alongside rarely make headlines.
A total of 853 Afghan soldiers and police were killed in the past four months, government figures show, compared with 165 NATO troops, according to a tally kept by the website icasualties.org. President Hamid Karzai warned in May that the Afghan death toll would increase as the US-led troops start withdrawing and hand increasing responsibility for security to Afghan forces. Both NATO’s ISAF and Afghanistan’s interior ministry have noted a surge in attacks in recent months since the start of the Taliban’s annual summer offensive.
That sounds bad. But it’s also a bit misleading. I wrote in the Atlantic last week that the way we count the dead also carries huge importance — and most people dramatically undercount how many dead there are.
The go-to source for understanding how many have died in Afghanistan is iCasualties.org, where the count on coalition soldiers killed stands at just over 3,000 right now. But iCasualties only counts soldiers — thousands of others have died in service to the war in Afghanistan.
When we include contractor deaths — 2,800, according to a July 12 report in Bloomberg Government by Barry McGarry — the number of coalition dead soars to almost 6,000.
Notably, no one compiles a comprehensive dataset of how many Afghan soldiers and policemen have been killed during the last 10 years. Wikipedia comes close, though their counting is only current as of last summer. According to this obsolete number, more than 10,000 Afghan soldiers and policemen have been killed since 2003.
This implies that, while the AFP’s numbers are probably correct for how many ANSF have been killed this year, the ratio is actually a bit “better” — substantially more ISAF personnel are being killed than is commonly understood. Notice how the AFP does not report how many contractors have been killed this year, though the data suggests at least a hundred have been.
If there’s any big lessons to be learned from this it’s that we do ourselves a disservice by under-counting the dead. One advantage of relying on so many civilian contractors — over a hundred thousand are still in Afghanistan, far more than soldiers at this point — is that they rarely get counted among the official war dead. That’s why you normally hear that Afghanistan has killed 3,000 Americans, instead of the more accurate 6,000 when contractors are included.
Using contractors like this allows policymakers to prolong wars, expand them, and maintain them because half the cost, and half the dead, are simply not acknowledged publicly. Especially now, as we try to understand the dramatically higher casualty rates for the Afghans we’re using more or less as cannon fodder for the insurgency, I think it’s time for that to stop.
IMAGE: An explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) team confers with an Afghan interpreter in Kapisa province, 2009 (Photo by Joshua Foust).