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Archive for Tuesday, January 13, 2004

100th U.S. soldier dies in Afghanistan

January 13, 2004

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— An American soldier returning from a patrol became the 100th fatality in the U.S. military's two-year Afghan campaign when his vehicle collided with a truck, highlighting the dangers facing U.S. forces in a nation roiled by a stubborn Taliban insurgency.

The toll pales in comparison to the tally of American dead in Iraq, which is approaching 500. But it is still a striking number in a force that is a small fraction of the size of the 130,000-strong U.S. contingent in Iraq.

The U.S. military did not identify the soldier in a brief statement issued Monday. It said he was involved in an accident Friday night southwest of the Afghan capital and died of his injuries the next morning.

"His death underscores the dangers inherent in Operation Enduring Freedom, and our condolences go out to his family," the statement said, without giving further details.

As in Iraq, where the U.S. military also triumphed, the number of U.S. casualties in Afghanistan has continued to rise, undermining claims by American leaders that the military campaign has brought stability to Afghans left destitute by a quarter-century of war.

Only 16 Americans died in the lightning war that drove the Taliban from power at the end of 2001 for providing a refuge and base for Osama bin Laden, the suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States. The rest of the Americans died after the Taliban's defeat.

Likewise in Iraq, most of the deaths -- both combat and non-combat -- have occurred since President Bush declared an end to major fighting on May 1. A roadside bomb explosion Monday killed the 495th American service member since the Iraq war began in March.

Pentagon spokesman James Turner confirmed that the weekend death brought the total from Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan to 100 -- 30 from hostile fire and 70 "nonhostile" casualties.

When measured against the large disparity in forces, the tally belies conventional wisdom that Afghanistan has become a far safer place to operate. The U.S. provides 9,000 of the 11,000-member coalition troops stationed in Afghanistan.

The Afghan government said Monday it "honored" America's sacrifice to free the country from al-Qaida and the Taliban and appealed for continued international support.

"At an important time like this, Afghanistan needs all the support that the international community can provide, in all areas, in order to make its progress completely irreversible," said Jawed Luddin, President Hamid Karzai's spokesman.

Despite the rapid victory more than two years ago, bin Laden has evaded capture and an international manhunt has failed to find him. He is believed to be hiding somewhere along the rugged, porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, possibly sheltered by tribesmen who were sympathetic to the Taliban.

Afghans are the chief victims of the insurgency. At least 40 people have died in an outburst of violence since the ratification of the country's first post-Taliban constitution on Jan. 4.

In the worst incident, 15 children were killed by a bomb in the southern city of Kandahar on Jan. 6 that U.S. and Afghan officials have blamed on the Taliban.

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