As the NATO mission in Afghanistan changes to more of a support and training role, Afghan casualties are increasing at a very high rate.
If NATO casualties in Afghanistan were running at over 100 per week and some weeks at over 150 this would be front page news. This is the range of casualties suffered by Afghan armed forces and police but barely registers as a blip on western media screens. The heavy toll is worrying commanders who are concerned about both recruitment and morale.
The families of those killed often are not informed of killings until long after they happen. When NATO was more active and running affairs, bodies used to be delivered to families on NATO planes. Now that the Afghan government is in control, sometimes bodies are not delivered at all and families have to make dangerous trips into the area where their loved ones were killed to try and find the bodies. This can be costly and also dangerous.
One in a while, a high profile case, will be taken up by a politician. A well-known example is that of a police cook named Yoldash. He went to fetch water from a stream but was killed by insurgents. His comrades left his body there at the stream. When his family finally found the body it was only a blanched skeleton.
US Army Lt. General Mark Milley the number 2 commander of the NATO-led ISAF forces in Afghanistan said that there had been no discussion of the "zero" option of leaving no troops in Afghanistan after the end of 2014. He said that the term "withdrawal" was a misnomer. Obama has continually stressed that the US is withdrawing from Afghanistan. However, the US is attempting to negotiate a bilateral agreement on security that would set out the terms under which troops would remain in Afghanistan. This is a followup to the Strategic Partnership Agreement that was negotiated with Karzai some time ago.
In an interview with Stars and Stripes, Milley said: “We have no indication whatsoever of a withdrawal completely from Afghanistan,We are going to change our mission, and we are going to reduce in size and scope.”
Karzai, angry over various issues, suspended talks in June and then later in August said that he was in no hurry to sign an agreement and might even leave the signing to the next president. Karzai, himself is not eligible to run again.
The issue of immunity from Afghan law, has been a thorny one. In Iraq, the government ultimately refused to grant immunity and no US combat soldiers were left as a result. Karzai has said that he will leave the decision to a loya jirga or meeting of Afghan elders. If this happens the group could very well decide against immunity.
In spite of these problems, Milley said that there was no plan for current troop levels to drop to zero": “The current NATO mandate ends on 31 December 2014, but there’s another mission that follows that called Resolute Support which is currently in planning. We’re only pulling out of areas where we think the Afghan security forces are capable of standing up and fighting on their own. But even when they, ‘fight on their own,’ we are still going to provide limited [intelligence and reconnaissance] and close-air support, because those capabilities won’t be ready for several years.”
As things stand now, all combat troops will leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014. However, the ISAF commander US Gen. Joseph Dunford told the Guardian newspaper that the Afghan forces may require up to five years more of international support. Meanwhile Afghan casualties mount. The Afghan Interior Minister said that 1,700 Afgan police officers have been killed since March, the same number as in the entire previous 12 months. The Afghan government does not even publish regular casualty numbers. Milley claimed that in general, the Afghan forces had done very well over this summer.
As the appended video shows, the Taliban is still striking NATO targets as well as Afghan forces.