Nearly twice as many U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan than in Iraq so far this month, marking the lowest death toll of the Iraq war and the first time that the American military has suffered more casualties in Afghanistan than it has in Iraq.
As of Tuesday, 11 U.S. service members had been killed in Iraq and 20 in Afghanistan in July, according to icasualties.org, which tracks coalition casualties in both wars.
If the July statistics hold for the next two days, they'll mark the lowest American military death toll in Iraq since February 2004, when 20 service members were killed, and the second highest toll in Afghanistan, after June, when 27 U.S. troops were killed there and 29 Americans were killed in Iraq.
In all, 29 NATO and U.S. service members have been killed in Afghanistan this month.
The American military is debating shifting more troops from Iraq to Afghanistan and expanding its counterinsurgency strategy there. Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that the military can't send more troops to Afghanistan unless it draws down more in Iraq, despite the surge of violence around Kabul and southern Afghanistan.
The numbers suggest that the biggest threat to U.S. troops in Iraq is Sunni Muslim extremists, not Shiite Muslim militiamen. In Afghanistan, the threat is from Taliban fighters, who've reorganized and are using the same kinds of explosives to target coalition forces that once dominated Iraq's landscape.
In Afghanistan, 16 soldiers were killed either by explosives or rocket-propelled grenades, nine of them in an attack on an outpost in Kunar province. The remaining four died in nonhostile incidents.
In Iraq, violence is at its lowest level since March 2004. Earlier this month, the last of the five “surge” brigades left, leaving about 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in the country, has said that he'll consider further withdrawals this fall.
In an interview earlier this week with McClatchy, Petraeus said that it was premature to declare victory in Iraq. Sunni and Shiite extremists are trying to reconstitute themselves, and the Iraqi military will need American support for some time, he said.
Petraeus, who this fall will become the commander of the U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, is expected to employ his counterinsurgency approach – which many attribute to the dramatic security turnaround in Iraq – against the Taliban.
In all, 4,124 American service members had been killed in Iraq as of Tuesday, and 561 have died in Afghanistan.