Coalition soldier dies in Afghanistan; first in a month
KABUL — After a stretch of one month in which no coalition troops were killed, a servicemember was killed Friday in a bomb attack in southern Afghanistan. It was only the ninth coalition death of the year.
As Afghan forces have assumed more responsibility for security, troops from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force have seen less fighting, though winter traditionally sees a lull in violence as many insurgents wait out the cold months in Pakistani safe havens. Fighting tends to pick up as the snow melts and generally starts sooner in the warmer southern provinces, such as Kandahar and Helmand.
The last ISAF servicemember to be killed in Afghanistan was a Polish soldier, Lt. Krzysztof Wozniak, who died Jan. 23 in Ghazni province.
Coalition casualties dropped by nearly 30 percent in 2012, with 402 servicemembers killed, the lowest number since 2008. Casualties peaked in 2010 at the height of the U.S. troop surge.
The trend is likely to continue as more countries pull their forces out of Afghanistan ahead of the 2014 deadline for all international combat troops to leave the country. President Barack Obama recently announced that more than half of the roughly 66,000 American troops in Afghanistan will leave the country by February 2014 and security for several provinces have already been turned over to the Afghan National Security Forces.
NATO hopes to have Afghan forces ready to take over security in the country by the end of 2014, though only about 14 percent of Afghan units are currently rated as able to operate independently. Currently, the coalition plans to shrink the ANSF by about one third after 2014, from its current level of roughly 350,000 troops to about 240,000, though The New York Times reported Friday that some NATO officials are considering keeping the ANSF at current strength through 2018. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta indicated Friday that he favors such a plan.