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War death toll for Afghan forces tops 13,000

Kabul’s tabulation much higher than revealed before

Afghans lit candles for 21 soldiers killed in a Taliban attack on an army base last month.

Massoud Hossaini/Associated Press

Afghans lit candles for 21 soldiers killed in a Taliban attack on an army base last month.

KABUL — About 13,000 Afghan soldiers and police officers have been killed during the war here, far more than previously known, according to Afghan government statistics.

A statement released late Sunday by President Hamid Karzai’s Cabinet, the Council of Ministers, put the total number of Afghan security forces killed during the past 13 years at 13,729, with another 16,511 Afghan soldiers and police officers wounded.

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Previously, Afghan ministries in charge of police officers and soldiers had released incomplete information on death tolls, and in the past year had stopped doing so entirely. Known fatalities for the army had been estimated at 3,546 and for the police at 6,890, up through June of last year.

A spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense, General Dawlat Waziri, responding to the Cabinet report, confirmed that 4,551 Afghan soldiers had been killed through March 20, 2013, but said that the ministry did not have figures for the current Afghan year, which ends March 20.

The Cabinet figures included most of this year as well, according to a Cabinet official, but did not distinguish between soldiers and police officers.

While there was no breakdown year by year, it appears certain that the great majority of the increase in Afghan casualties fall during the past three years.

Before 2010, both police and military casualties were relatively few, reflecting the smallness of the Afghan security forces and the higher proportion of the fighting carried out by NATO and US troops.

For instance, in 2009, roughly twice as many coalition soldiers were killed as Afghan soldiers, based on data compiled by the Brookings Institution and icasualties.org, a website that compiles data on war casualties.

According to the compilations by Brookings, only 1,236 Afghan soldiers and 3,290 Afghan police officers were killed from 2007 to 2010 (casualties before then were slight as the forces were so small). That would mean, based on the Cabinet’s latest numbers, that from 2011 to the present, more than 8,000 soldiers and police officers have been killed in the conflict.

The Afghan military has only sporadically issued statistics on the deaths of its soldiers and had not issued any detailed information since June. The commander of the International Security Assistance Force, General Joseph F. Dunford Jr., said in an interview with The Guardian in August that more than 100 Afghan security force members a week were then being killed.

“I’m not assuming those figures are sustainable,” he told the newspaper.

At the time, Afghan officials disputed the general’s statistics, saying that they must have included those wounded as well as killed. And as recently as last month, after 21 Afghan soldiers were killed in a single Taliban attack, the spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, General Zaher Azimi, refused to comment on reports of a rising death toll.

“We have decided we will not share the number of casualties with the media,” he said.

The new figures suggest either gross underreporting of casualties in the past, a dramatic increase in recent years, or a combination of both factors.

The Afghan death toll is four times higher than that of the international coalition, which has lost 3,425 soldiers — 2,313 of them Americans — during the 13-year conflict.

The statement from the Council of Ministers also detailed payments of about $23 million in death benefits to soldiers’ families. It also said that 12,336 civilians had been killed in the conflict, and that 11,607 civilians had been wounded; those figures are in line with data compiled by the United Nations.

It was unclear why the Cabinet had released the data now, but Karzai has been concerned by the strong public reaction to the deaths of 21 Afghan soldiers, whose base was overrun by the Taliban last month, in what Afghan officials said was their army’s single largest loss of life during the conflict. The data may have been intended to show how much the government had spent compensating victims of the conflict.

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