The deaths of 22 American troops in a four-day span in Afghanistan is a grim foretaste of the price in blood U.S. forces are likely to pay as Afghanistan holds parliamentary elections this month and offensive operations are stepped up against Taliban strongholds in the fall, experts and military officials said.
At least 181 U.S. troops have been killed in the past three months, a death toll rivaling intense periods of combat during the Iraq war. In July, 66 troops were killed, and 60 in June. Most of the troop deaths came from roadside bombs hidden in the culverts along main thoroughfares or dirt roads.
"More than likely the increase in deaths is a reflection of our guys moving deeper into Taliban territory," James Carafano told The Washington Examiner.
Carafano, a senior defense analyst for the Heritage Foundation, said that rising casualties were expected, "however, there have clearly been some attacks which are efforts by the Taliban to drive up U.S. casualties. The Taliban's strategic objective is to kill Americans, make the Afghan government look like they can't control anything and scare the people enough so they won't cooperate. It's really an attrition kind of strategy on their part."
The surge in U.S. fatalities coincided with President Obama's nationally televised speech on Iraq and could erode any political gains from the winding down of combat operations in that country. Republicans are already accusing Obama of taking credit for a surge in Iraq that he opposed as a U.S. senator, and of undercutting chances of success in Afghanistan by setting July 2011 as a date to begin withdrawing.
"Using campaign promises as a yardstick to measure success in Iraq and Afghanistan runs the risk of triggering artificial victory laps and premature withdrawal dates unconnected to conditions on the ground," said House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged during a speech Tuesday public frustration with the lack of clear progress since the administration's expansion in Afghanistan last year. He said skeptics once doubted success in Iraq and now doubt the Afghan expansion.
"Success there is not inevitable," Gates said, according to the Associated Press. "But with the right strategy and the willingness to see it through, it is possible, and it is certainly worth the fight."
And the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, gave a mixed review of U.S. progress in Afghanistan since the surge there. "I would not say we have reversed the momentum in all areas by any means," he said. "In some we have reversed it, in some we have blunted it, in some perhaps the Taliban are still trying to expand."
Sara A. Carter is The Washington Examiner's national security correspondent. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.