WASHINGTON - The number of Afghan national security troops killed in combat shot up almost 80 percent during this summer's fighting season, compared with the same time in 2012, as Afghans take the lead in the fight across the country.
A Pentagon report says that U.S. and coalition deaths, meanwhile, dropped by almost 60 percent during the same six-month period. The Defense Department refused to release numbers to explain the percentages, but U.S. military leaders have said that the number of Afghans killed each week had spiked to more than 100 earlier this year.
The high number of casualties and the Afghans' limited ability to evacuate their wounded, "adversely affects morale, retention and recruiting," according to the report, which the Defense Department released Friday.
A senior U.S. military official, when asked about the casualty rate, said late last month that as the fighting season begins to wind down, the Afghan deaths had also started to decline. In one recent week, about 50 were killed in action, said the official, who spoke to reporters at a recent NATO meeting and requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly under NATO rules.
The Pentagon report covers the time period from April 1, 2013, to Sept. 30, 2013, before snow and cold temperatures begin to make travel difficult.
The drop in U.S. and coalition casualties reflects the Afghans' increased role taking the lead of combat operations as well as the ongoing decrease in the number of international forces in the country. As of this week, there are about 48,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, down from a peak of slightly more than 100,000 in 2010.
According to the report, Afghan forces now conduct 95 percent of conventional operations and 98 percent of special operations in Afghanistan. Coalition forces continue to provide training and assistance but are still needed for air support, security, route clearance for roadside bombs, air lift for wounded or dead troops and counterterror operations.
Under the current plan, coalition combat forces will leave Afghanistan at the end of next year. Negotiations between the U.S. and the Afghan government are continuing to determine whether a small U.S. force will remain after 2014, and, if so, how many. U.S. and coalition officials have outlined plans to leave between 8,000-12,000 troops there to train and advise the Afghans, but any decision depends on whether the two sides can finalize a security agreement. The U.S. is expected to provide no more than 8,000, but the number could be substantially fewer depending on the agreement reached.
Overall, the report said that the Afghans are gaining capabilities, but it also warned that the insurgency "consolidated gains in some of the rural areas in which it has traditionally held power." And it says that as more U.S. and coalition troops leave in the coming months it will be difficult for the Afghans to take on all the needed capabilities, including both the fighting force and the government institutions and ministries needed to support it.
Afghan capabilities, "are not yet fully self-sustainable, and considerable effort will be required to make progress permanent," the report said. "After 2014, (Afghan forces') sustainability will be at high risk without continued aid from the international community and continued coalition force assistance including institutional advising."
With international aid, however, the Afghans could continue to increase their ability to maintain a force and fight the Taliban, the report said.
According to the report, there are more than 344,000 Afghan security troops, which is nearly at the goal of 352,000. But over the last 12 months, the attrition rate has been more than 34 percent. The troop loss is blamed on poor leadership, inadequate living and working conditions, the lack of a good program for leaves and the effects of seasonal demands for harvesting and planting.