WASHINGTON, Aug 24: The White House has reiterated its pledge to transfer ‘security lead’ to Afghan forces by 2014 as the US death toll in Afghanistan reached the 2000 mark.
“By 2014, we will have fully transferred security lead to Afghan security forces. And this President believes that’s the right policy,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney when asked to define US President Barack Obama’s war policy.
The official Voice of America radio reported on Thursday that more than half of the 2000 deaths occurred in the past 27 months.
“The increased casualty rate came as President Obama poured thousands of extra troops into the country to intensify the US-led Nato coalition’s battle against insurgents,” VOA noted.
In a special war supplement, The New York Times noted that US casualties in friendly fires were increasing gradually. In just the past two weeks, at least nine Americans had been killed by their Afghan allies.
So far this year, at least 40 Nato service members, most of them American, have been killed by either active members of the Afghan forces or attackers dressed in their uniforms. It is already more than the total number of deaths in friendly fire last year.
As this increased pressure on the White House to withdraw troops, Mr Carney assured Americans that the Obama administration had no plans to expand US involvement in Afghanistan.
“Our number-one objective … is to disrupt, dismantle, and ultimately defeat Al Qaeda and that all other objectives that are secondary to that help support the primary objective,” he said.
But this does not satisfy war critics. In an editorial page article in NYT on Thursday, columnist Roger Cohen urged the Obama administration to consider withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan as soon as possible.
“It took nearly seven years from the start of the war for the death toll to reach 500.Then the killing accelerated,” he wrote. “The Afghan war is a story of inattention, distraction, carelessness, imprecision, uncertainty, corruption — as well as a chronicle of a Nato alliance where some fight and die and others much less so.”
The NBC News noted that public opinion in the US remained largely negative towards the war, with 66 per cent opposed to it and just 27 per cent in favour.
A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that 60 per cent of registered voters felt the US should no longer be involved in Afghanistan. Just 31 per cent said the US was doing the right thing by fighting there now.
Responding to growing impatience with the war, the White House press secretary assured the Americans: “We are now beginning to draw down US forces from Afghanistan. And that process continues.”
At his most recent briefing to the White House press corps, President Obama said that his administration had “obviously … been watching with deep concern these so-called green-on-blue attacks”, Afghan troops opening fire at coalition forces.
He noted that he had sent his senior military commanders to Afghanistan to discuss this issue with the Afghan government and they also had consulted the Afghan president.
The US military command in Afghanistan, he said, was implementing a programme called the Guardian Angel, “to make sure that our troops aren’t in isolated situations that might make them more vulnerable”.
“In the long term, we will see fewer US casualties and coalition casualties by sticking to our transition plan and making sure that we've got the most effective Afghan security force possible.”