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” by 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.
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.
Votel said more would be disclosed after the service member’s family was notified of the loss. It was the seventh U.S. combat death in Afghanistan this year. The most recent had been Sept. 3 when Army Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy A. Bolyard, 42, of Thornton, West Virginia, was shot to death by a member of the Afghan national police in Logar province.
The announcement from Kabul said the American’s death was under investigation. In line with standard practice, the name of the person will not be officially released until 24 hours after family members have been notified.
“Initial reports that I have seen are that this is as a result of combat action, and not a result of anything else that you have seen,” Votel said.
The Pentagon says there are about 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan.