The U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, launched in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, reached a milestone today as reports of one more service member killed in the conflict raised the total number of U.S. military deaths in and around Afghanistan to 1,000.
According to the Pentagon, 1,000 service members have been killed in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan since combat operations began in the region nearly nine years ago. This includes 15 service members killed in Pakistan and one in Uzbekistan.
More U.S. service members have died in the Afghanistan theater than any other part of the military's broad worldwide counterterrorism mission known as Operation Enduring Freedom .
According to a press statement, a service member died today following an improvised explosive device (IED) attack in southern Afghanistan. The statement did not identify the victim's nationality, but a U.S. spokesman said that the service member was American.
The milestone of 1,000 deaths resulting from the broader operation that launched the "war on terror" was reached in March of this year. Although the bulk of fatalities occurred in Afghanistan, that total also included the deaths of U.S. service members in countries ranging from Djibouti to the Philippines, reflecting the global nature of the mission.
"Every single casualty affects people. It affects leaders, but more importantly it affects families, it affects children, it affects parents, spouses. So each one of them is sacred," Gen. Stanley McChrystal told reporters earlier this month.
McChrystal is the senior commander of all NATO forces in Afghanistan.
"The force is strong," he said. " The force believes in the cause. The force understands that what we're doing is important. But casualties are something that I hope that the American people will keep in their minds as -- and their hearts," he said.
McChrystal and other officials have warned that the number of fatalities in the Afghanistan conflict will continue to rise as the United States sends more troops to take on al Qaeda and Taliban strongholds in that country. The Obama administration ordered in an additional 30,000 U.S. forces to Afghanistan in December to implement McChrystal's new strategy to enhance security across the country.
About 94,000 U.S. troops serve in Afghanistan, with the aim of having 98,000 by year's end.
Reflecting the greater number of troops dedicated to the fight in the Afghanistan, the casualty levels have risen as more troops come into contact with Taliban fighters.
The 313 U.S. fatalities in 2009 was double the 2008 total of 155, and so far this year the numbers have increased dramatically, already more than double the number of fatalities from the same period a year ago.
"There will be more targets, but there will also be more security, which will ultimately decrease casualties," said retired Army general and ABC News military consultant William Nash. "The key is going to be synergy between military, politics and economics. ... Over a period of one or two years, I think there's a great opportunity to make progress."
An increasing threat to U.S. forces has been the Taliban's use of roadside bombs. They are less sophisticated than the bombs American forces faced in Iraq, but they have proven just as deadly.
More often, the bombs are made from fertilizer, which has led the Afghan government to ban certain fertilizers in strategic regions such as southern Afghanistan.
The 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 2009.
The Pentagon also keeps a separate tally of fallen service members and Defense Department civilians who have died supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. 3,479 military service members and 9 department civilians have been killed in action in Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to Pentagon reports.
While the death toll in Afghanistan climbs, U.S. losses in Iraq continue to go down with the improved security situation.
As the United States prepares for a major drawdown of forces this year to 50,000 by September, the number of American forces in Afghanistan now exceeds the number in Iraq.
There are now 94,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and 92,000 serving in Iraq, as of May 24.
At least 313 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.