KABUL: International troop deaths in Afghanistan topped 700 in 2010, an independent website said Tuesday, with US military chiefs reportedly pushing to expand special operations ground raids into Pakistan.
The number of coalition forces killed fighting the Taliban this year — already the deadliest in the nine-year war — now stands at 702, around a third higher than last year, according to an AFP tally based on iCasualties.org.
US troops account for 70 per cent of the deaths and the bloody milestone came just days after an American review said President Barack Obama’s war strategy was “on track”.
Last year, Obama ordered an extra 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan in a bid to rout Al-Qaeda, reverse the Taliban insurgency and bring American forces home as soon as possible.
Limited withdrawals are expected to start next July, with responsibility for security being handed to Afghan forces in 2014, although Obama has acknowledged that combat troops might remain into 2015.
When asked about the death toll, a spokesman for the US-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) highlighted increased pushes against the Taliban as part of Obama’s surge strategy in the war.
“We have been saying there will be increased operations with the increase of troops and the increased focus on insurgent safe havens,” the spokesman told AFP.
“We expected and continue to expect the enemy to fight back as we push into those areas and clear them.”The New York Times reported Tuesday that senior US military commanders in Afghanistan are pushing to boost ground raids by special operations forces across the border in Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal areas.
The calls come amid growing US frustration with Pakistani efforts to remove militants from strongholds there, the paper said.
Taliban operatives are thought to launch strikes into Afghanistan before retreating back into the cover of the wild, mountainous region.
So far, US forces have been restricted to limited covert operations and unmanned drone strikes in Pakistan.
Even limited operations have provoked angry public reactions from Pakistan, although US cables recently released by WikiLeaks suggest political and military leaders have quietly approved of them.
But ISAF spokesman Rear Admiral Gregory Smith said there was “absolutely no truth” to any suggestion that ground operations into Pakistan were planned.
The Taliban were ousted from power by a US-led invasion after the September 11 attacks, which Washington linked to Al-Qaeda militants being harboured by the Taliban.
There are around 140,000 international troops in Afghanistan. The nations contributing most are the United States, with 90,000 troops, and Britain, with around 9,000.
The majority of this year’s ISAF dead — 493 — are US troops, followed by Britons with 101, according to iCasualties.
The total international troop death toll last year stood at 521 while for 2008 the number was 295, the website added.
But Western public support for the increasingly deadly and costly war is dwindling in many countries that contribute troops to the international force.
Last week, 60 per cent of Americans surveyed for an ABC News/Washington Post poll thought the war was not worth fighting, up seven points since July.
The number of international troops being killed in Afghanistan is still substantially lower than the number of civilian casualties.
The United Nations said in August that the number of civilian casualties in the conflict rose by a third in the first six months of this year to 1,271, with insurgents killing seven times more civilians than NATO-led troops.