Deadly Shell Game: Picking Afghanistan’s Casualty Figures

A frenzy over the 500th U.S. servicemember to die in Afghanistan developed in the media this week. According to the Associated Press, the U.S. death toll in Afghanistan surpassed 500 GIs recently, or perhaps it will reach that milestone soon…or…did we actually cross that line long ago? While the AP admits that accurate casualty figures are hard to come by thanks to lags in Defense Department reports and the difficulty of independent confirmation in the region, the situation gets a little more complicated than that. Operation Enduring Freedom, often referred to as the Afghan War, actually spans several nations. The South Asian country is simply the main focal point of this “war on terror” that was formulated in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The AP specifically counted deaths in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Elsewhere, the New York Times came up with a slightly different set of numbers themselves, but their handy chart quickly reveals just how spread out the operation really is. U.S. servicemembers were also killed in countries as far from Afghanistan as are the Philippines, Mali, and even Cuba, so while the AP admirably tallied the deaths in and around Afghanistan, the worldwide U.S. toll for this military excursion is almost 15% higher. Perhaps AP cherry-picked these particular numbers because 500 is more of a “newsworthy milestone” than 562 deaths (Pentagon figures) or 569 deaths (, but whatever the reason behind it, keeping the deadliness of the “Afghan War” in the headlines is of utmost importance, especially during this campaign season.