KABUL — Coalition casualties in July hit the highest monthly total in nearly a year, a reminder that even as international militaries head for the exit, the insurgency is far from vanquished.
As of Tuesday, 46 troops had been killed in July, according to iCasualties.org, a website that tracks casualities from the war.
The numbers come after the International Security Assistance Force released figures showing an 11 percent increase in attacks this year. Though the number of deaths this month is up, overall Coalition deaths are down 20 percent over the same period last year, according to ISAF.
An ISAF official, in emailed comments, attributed the uptick in attacks to an increased presence of Afghan security forces, insurgents pushed from population centers trying to reassert themselves, and an early poppy crop that enabled fighters to fund attacks earlier in the year than usual.
“By forcing insurgents out of more heavily populated areas like RC-Central, where violence has declined significantly, and into the more contested regions of Afghanistan, we can anticipate the insurgency will attempt to increase its attacks, primarily using IEDs and small arms fire, in order to continue to retain influence and safe havens,” the official said.
Some experts, though, see the spike in attacks and steady casualties as evidence insurgents are still entrenched.
Simultaneously withdrawing troops and trying to mount major operations in hot spots is untenable and coalition forces have overstated the success they’ve had in weakening the insurgency, said Anthony H. Cordesman, a national security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He said areas in eastern and southern Afghanistan are becoming more vulnerable, even as the drawdown accelerates.
“Insurgencies are harder to suppress than we sometimes understand,” Cordesman said.
The uptick in violence suggests that insurgents are far from defeated, said Bruce Riedel, a former adviser to three U.S. presidents who has reviewed Afghanistan policy for President Barack Obama, currently with the Brookings Institution.
“They are calculating that war weariness in Europe and America cannot stomach many more casualties and that once NATO starts to draw down, they can precipitate a rush to the exit,” he said. “NATO’s challenge is to prove them wrong, that the coalition is in for the long haul even after 2014.”
So far this year, 266 coalition troops have been killed as opposed to 335 through July 2011, according to iCasualties.org. Roadside bombs continue to be the biggest killer of foreign troops.
Violence rises in Afghanistan during the warmer months as mountain passes thaw and insurgents stream back from their winter hideouts, and this summer has been no exception. Coalition forces have also launched a number of clearing operations into Taliban-controlled areas this summer – seen by many as the last opportunity for major offensives before troop numbers plummet.
Members of the Afghan Security Forces continue to take the brunt of attacks, with about 900 killed over the past four months, according to Afghan officials. That number does not include border police casualties.