Insurgents killed two U.S. troops in Afghanistan on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks Thursday, making 2008 the deadliest year for American forces since U.S. troops invaded the country in 2001 for sheltering Osama bin Laden.
The deaths brought the number of troops who have died in Afghanistan this year to 113, according to an Associated Press tally, surpassing last year's record toll of 111.
Afghanistan was the launching pad for al-Qaida's attacks Sept. 11, 2001. U.S. forces invaded in October 2001 in response and quickly drove the Taliban out of power.
Across Afghanistan, U.S. troops paused in silence Thursday to commemorate the 9-11 attacks. At a U.S. base in Kabul, members of the New York National Guard, many of whom served at the site of the World Trade Center after the towers came down, remembered the attack on their home state.
“For those of us who were there, served at ground zero, 9-11 is deeply personal,” said Col. Brian Bale, the commander of the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
Bin Laden is thought to be in the lawless tribal belt on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. He had been sheltered by Taliban leader Mullah Omar before 9-11.
Taliban fighters folded in easy defeat in fall 2001 in what at first appeared to be a resounding U.S. victory. But militants that U.S. commanders once derided as ragtag amateurs have transformed into a fighting force advanced enough to mount massive conventional attacks. Suicide and roadside bombs have turned bigger and deadlier than ever.
The number of Arab, Chechen and Uzbek militants flowing into the Afghan-Pakistan region has increased this year, bringing with them command expertise the Taliban lacked.
U.S. death tolls have climbed sharply from the first years of the war. Only five U.S. service members died in 2001. Thirty service members died in both 2002 and 2003; the toll climbed to 49 in 2004, then 93 in 2005 and 88 in 2006.
Last year, 111 troops died, including one killed by a sniper while meeting with Pakistani officers in Pakistan. That mark was surpassed Thursday – with more than three months left in the year – reflecting both the increased number of American troops deployed to Afghanistan as well as the insurgency's increasing potency.
Top U.S. generals, European leaders and analysts say the blame lies to the east, in militant sanctuaries in neighboring Pakistan. As long as those areas remain havens where fighters arm, train, recruit and plot increasingly sophisticated ambushes, the Afghan war will continue to sour.