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Deaths of Afghan soldiers rise as coalition withdraws

Afghan refugees carried sacks of donated blankets Sunday from the UN relief agency at a camp in Kabul.

Musadeq Sadeq/associated Press

Afghan refugees carried sacks of donated blankets Sunday from the UN relief agency at a camp in Kabul.

KABUL — The Afghan government has hit a grim record in its quest to take over the country’s security from coalition forces: more than 1,000 Afghan soldiers died in 2012, a roughly 20 percent increase from 2011.

Though the Afghan Army’s death rates have outstripped those for international forces in recent years, the new figures show the widest margin yet, as more Afghan units have taken the field. International troops were reported to have lost about 400 soldiers in 2012, the lowest number since 2008, and many of those were the result of insider attacks.

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The progress of the Afghan National Army in being able to fight the insurgency is crucial to the international coalition’s exit strategy as the formal end of NATO combat operations looms in 2014. Afghan officials say that their forces now plan and lead 80 percent of combat operations across the country.

Since 2008, the number of enlisted Afghan soldiers has nearly tripled, to 195,000.

In a separate development Sunday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees distributed emergency cold weather supplies to families in a refugee camp where two days earlier a 3-year-old child died of exposure.

But camp leaders and Afghan government officials criticized the aid delivery as inadequate to protect camp residents from continued cold conditions and to prevent more deaths.

Depending on how one reads the new numbers of soldier deaths, the figures can be both hopeful and troubling.

Inasmuch as the uptick in deaths indicate a more active role for the army, the data are encouraging: Afghan-led operations should result in more Afghan casualties. But for some, the statistics also raise questions about whether the army is ready to take over control of the country’s security.

‘‘These high figures send a message to Afghans as well as the international community that the Afghan security forces are not ready to take over and that we will witness even more severe casualties in the next couple of years,’’ said Jawid Kohistani, a military analyst based in Kabul. ‘‘The only thing preventing the Taliban from taking over a district or a province or carrying out more audacious attacks is the presence of foreign forces who are equipped with modern and advanced technology.’’

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