Deaths Decline In Iraq; Afghanistan Fight Intensifies
DEBORAH AMOS, Host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Deborah Amos.
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
And I'm Renee Montagne. The number of American troops killed in Iraq each month is now at the lowest it's been since the U.S. invaded back in 2003. It's a dramatic drop from just a year ago. President Bush said yesterday that while this lower level of violence has held steady for the past three months...
GEORGE W: General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker caution that the progress is still reversible. They report that there now appears to be a degree of durability to the gains that we have made.
MONTAGNE: That's in Iraq. In Afghanistan the reverse is true. More and more Western troops are being killed. We're joined by NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Baghdad to compare the two wars.
And Soraya, what are the latest figures?
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Well, according to the independent Web site Icausalties.org, there were 13 U.S. troops who were killed in Iraq in the month of July. And that's down from 29 in June. And certainly far less than we're seeing in Afghanistan, where there were 30 Western troops killed in July, compared to 45 deaths in June. And of course 45 is the highest number of Western deaths that we've seen in Afghanistan since the coalition came in in 2001 to oust the Taliban.
MONTAGNE: And it's important to remember that in Afghanistan there are far fewer troops. So the comparison of deaths is even more dramatic.
SARHADDI NELSON: Absolutely. We're talking three times as many troops in Iraq. And if you just look at U.S. troops, certainly the proportion is even higher, because the 52,000 troops that are in Afghanistan are a mix of U.S. and NATO-led forces.
MONTAGNE: All right, we've just heard President Bush say that there's a degree of durability in Iraq. Is that the case from your perspective?
SARHADDI NELSON: Well, certainly at the moment - certainly over the last three months it seems that violence is coming down. But, as he said, it's important to remember that it could be fleeting, I mean that this is not a guarantee that everything is now fixed in Iraq, because we should remember that there were five suicide bombings since Monday in Iraq.
Also at the moment what's contributing to the quiet is that the Shiite militias are lying low and that Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who heads the largest of those militias - which would be the Mahdi Army - is still telling their people to back off and to not fight with the government or with the U.S. forces. At least for now.
MONTAGNE: And Soraya, you usually report from Kabul. Why do you think Afghanistan is so much more deadly now than Iraq?
SARHADDI NELSON: Well, besides the fact that it's the summer and we always see a large uptick in violence in the summer - at least we have seen that in the last few years - there are other factors that are playing into this. One is that there is a significant increase of activity in terms of insurgent activity coming across the border from Pakistan. The other issue we seem to be seeing is that al-Qaida in Iraq seems to be redirecting some of its foreign recruits or foreign fighters to the battle in Afghanistan.
MONTAGNE: And Soraya, from your reporting in Kabul, and now you're there of course in Baghdad, what do you see that is being done in Iraq that would make sense to do in Afghanistan?
SARHADDI NELSON: Well, there's certainly been discussion of trying to increase troops in Afghanistan, sort of a mini-surge, if you will. And there's also been discussion of whether or not to arm local militias, provide them money so that they won't join up with the Taliban or other insurgent groups.
But the bigger problem in Afghanistan beyond what's happening in Iraq and why that perhaps won't work, the experts say, is because the Afghan government is such a problem for the people now. More and more people are feeling disassociated from the government. They feel it's corrupt. Certainly outreach to about 80 percent of the population, which lives in rural areas, is not increasing in any kind of meaningful way in terms of development, reconstruction, services.
Even the military commanders of NATO-led forces there say there is no military solution. And so it seems there just have to be other solutions that are looked at, according to the experts. Certainly improvements in the Afghan government is vital among those.
MONTAGNE: Soraya, thanks very much.
SARHADDI NELSON: You're welcome, Renee.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson speaking to us from Baghdad.