Operation Enduring Freedom – the American military's worldwide counterterrorism mission launched in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 – reached a tragic milestone today, with more than 1,000 American service members killed in the campaign, according to the latest Pentagon report.
The mission's name has become synonymous with the war in Afghanistan as the U.S. first launched combat operations there in October 2001, but it actually refers to any military deployments around the world dedicated to fighting terrorism. American service members have died in more than a dozen countries around the world.
Of the 1,001 U.S. troops and two department civilians killed in Operation Enduring Freedom, the majority have lost their lives in the war in Afghanistan. The number of U.S. fatalities in or around Afghanistan stands at 925. The Pentagon's definition of "in or around" refers to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan.
U.S. military casualties have also occurred in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Philippines, Seychelles, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkey and Yemen.
"Whether it's one or a thousand, every single loss of a soldier, sailor, airman and Marine is keenly felt by the entire military and by all those who work in this building and by all of our family and friends," said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morell. "Our heart goes out to these [latest] losses...just as they did, and just as much as they did...to the first few."
The deaths of more than 1,000 U.S. military service members in the effort the Bush administration called the "war on terror" is a sobering reminder of the ongoing deployments around the world that have faded somewhat in the consciousness of many Americans.
For example, there has been a long-term U.S. military presence in the Horn of Africa since late 2002. 1,400 American service members make up Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa which is based in Djibouti.
Their mission is to partner with countries in the region to take on terrorism threats. They emphasize a humanitarian and training approach that counters any possible al Qaeda influences in the region, most notably from Somalia.
Casualties can result even though U.S. troops try not to engage in fighting. Ten Marines died there in February 2006 when two helicopters collided on a training mission.
U.S. military forces have also served in the Philippines, where the U.S. has provided advisors, equipment and financial assistance in taking on the Abu Sayaff insurgency there. Seventeen American service members have died there since U.S. troops began their mission in January 2002.
Six U.S. service members have died at the detention facility at the Naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba.
Some experts say the numbers released today are simply one count of a complex method of tracking the human toll of the counterterrorism fight and that the total number of American lives lost in the campaign is actually higher.
The latest Pentagon figures do not include CIA, Drug Enforcement Administration or other civilians killed in the war, including the seven intelligence operatives killed in a base attack in late December.
The Pentagon keeps a separate tally of fallen service members and Defense department civilians who have died supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. 4,371 military service members and 13 department civilians have been killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to Pentagon reports.
The number of U.S. fatalities in Afghanistan is nearing the 1,000 milestone as well, highlighting a steady trend of climbing fatalities in the effort, as the U.S. has sent more troops to take on al Qaeda and Taliban strongholds in that country.
While the death toll in Afghanistan climbs, U.S. losses in Iraq have gone down.
At least 312 U.S. soldiers died in Afghanistan last year, nearly twice as many as in 2008. In Iraq, 150 Americans lost their lives, half as many as the year before.
December 2009 was also the first month without a U.S. combat death in Iraq since the U.S.-led war there began in March 2003.
4,371 military service members and 13 department civilians have been killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to Pentagon reports.
Military officials and analysts predict the trend will continue into 2010 as the U.S. continues to draw down forces in Iraq and build up troop levels in Afghanistan as part of President Obama's new military strategy there.
They have also warned that the number of U.S. casualties in Afghanistan will likely rise in the short term while forces carry out the new mission.
About 72,000 U.S. troops serve in Afghanistan with 30,000 more expected to arrive by late this year to help fight Taliban insurgents and enhance security for Afghan civilians. By the end of 2010, roughly 100,000 U.S. troops will be stationed in the region.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in an interview with ABC News Dec. 2, said Americans should expect more casualties in 2010.
"Every life is precious," Gates said. "We lost 15 soldiers and Marines in November. We lost 44 in October. Casualties will vary as we go into the winter, but come spring, those casualties will grow."
But several military experts said the rise in casualties will likely only be temporary as the surge takes effect.
Retired Army general and ABC News military consultant William Nash said, "There will be more targets, but there will also be more security, which will ultimately decrease casualties.
"The key is going to be synergy between military, politics and economics," he said, adding that prospects are not favorable in the short term. "But over a period of one or two years, I think there's a great opportunity to make progress."