U.S. Casualties in Afghanistan Dropped 70 Percent from Oct. to Nov., But Why? CNSNews.com Gets Different Answers

December 8, 2009 - 1:08 AM
When CNSNews.com asked the the White House why it believed casualties in Afghanistan dropped so dramatically from October to November, the White House referred CNSNews.com to the Pentagon for an explanation.

U.S. soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division patrol a village in the Pech Valley of Afghanistan's Kunar province Friday, Nov. 6, 2009. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)

(CNSNews.com) – U.S. casualties in Afghanistan dropped by about 70 percent from October to November, falling from 58 to 17, but that still left November 2009 the deadliest November in the 8-year war. The 58 U.S. casualties in October made that month the single deadliest month of the war.

The Pentagon said that one reason for the large drop in casualties in Afghanistan from October to November is the strategy that is in place. But a spokesman for generals in the field said it's too early to give a definitive reason; however, he said several factors – including the arrival of winter weather in Afghanistan, which has generally meant fewer seasonal casualties -- may account for the decline.

Fifty-seven of the fifty-eight U.S. deaths in Afghanistan in October were combat-related. In November, 15 of the 17 U.S. casualties were combat related. That means combat casualties dropped by approximately 75 percent from October to November. 

When CNSNews.com asked the the White House why it believes the casualties dropped so dramatically from October to November, the White House referred CNSNews.com to the Pentagon for an explanation.

A Pentagon spokesman indicated that the drop in casualties from October to November was not a “fluke,” but rather a result of the strategy that is in place.

The spokesman, Army Lt. Col. Nathan Banks, would not comment on the specifics of the strategy due to its “classified” nature. However, he said: “It’s a strategy that is in place, that has been implemented, that has clearly shown that the attacks are coming down.”

“There is a never a fluke of ‘Oh well, you know, the numbers just went down.’ It’s attributed to the success of strategy which is just in place,” Banks told CNSNews.com. 

When asked if the drop from October to November 2009 could be attributed to specific military action, Banks said “No.” 

“Things are coming to be normal,” the Defense Department spokesman said. Nevertheless, the U.S. military is “taking over various hot, hot pockets,” cross-training with soldiers in the region, and that a “smooth transition” in various areas is showing “success,” he said. 

Two other military spokesmen--one from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan and another from U.S. Central Command--agreed the decline was not due to specific military action, but said multiple factors, including the seasonal change in the weather, could account for the drop.

“We looked at the stats at length,” U.S. Navy Lt. Nicolas Melendez, the ISAF Joint Command spokesman, told CNSNews.com by e-mail from Afghanistan, when asked what caused the October-to-November decrease in casualties. 

“To suggest a 70 percent reduction in fatalities from October to November indicates any kind of trend or is due to a particular action would be misleading,” he wrote.

The ISAF is headed by the commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. 

“The reduction in fatalities could be a result of many items,” Melendez said, “including but not limited to, improved counter-IED efforts, seasonal events/changes, the number of engagements with the enemy, intelligence, etc. It is too early to draw definitive conclusions.”

A U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) spokesman, meanwhile, indicated that he was not aware of anything he could “identify” as the reason why casualties went down from October to November this year. 

However, he echoed Melendez, saying that from one year to the next, seasonal changes have affected the number of U.S. military who have been killed.

“As you know, there is year-to-year variation. In the summer months, they (casualties) usually go up and then they usually go down,” Lt. Cmdr. Bill Speaks, told CNSNews.com. 

“I would have to look up in comparison to last year, and really I wouldn’t make a judgment on this, just based on a change from October to November,” Speaks said.

According to a database of all Afghanistan war casualties since 2001 compiled by CNSNews.com, fewer U.S. casualties have occurred in Afghanistan during the winter months.

President Obama announced a new Afghanistan war strategy on Dec. 1, which includes sending 30,000 additional troops and a pull-out date of July 2011. 

Obama’s decision came after Gen. McChrystal, whom the president assigned this past June to be the top commander in Afghanistan, asked for 40,000 additional troops in a report to the Department of Defense delivered Aug. 30.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates fired the previous top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan in May before McChrystal assumed his current job title.