Americans should prepare to accept hundreds of U.S. casualties each month in Afghanistan during spring offensives with enemy forces.
The dire forecast was made by retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, an adjunct professor of international affairs at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, in a periodic assessment of political and security issues he has conducted in the war zone since 2003.
"What I want to do is signal that this thing is going to be $5 billion to $10 billion a month and 300 to 500 killed and wounded a month by next summer. That's what we probably should expect. And that's light casualties," said McCaffrey, who is also president of his own consulting firm in Arlington, Va., and has conducted numerous trips to the war zones to assess the political and military challenges at hand.
As of Dec. 20, there had been 305 U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan in 2009, the large majority of those due to hostile action. The number of wounded as of the same date for 2009 was 2,102, with more than half of those unable to return to duty.
A month-by-month breakdown using data compiled by Army Times shows that in 2009, the highest number of wounded and dead in Afghanistan occurred from June, with 210 wounded and killed through October, when 318 were listed as wounded or killed.
October was the deadliest month for U.S. troops, with 50 killed in hostile action; but September saw the most wounded with 457 taken out of the fight.
McCaffrey predicts those numbers will go higher, up to 500 casualties per month, as the winter thaw permits enemy and coalition forces to launch their respective offensives.
McCaffrey, a three-time recipient of the Purple Heart medal who also earned the Distinguished Service Cross twice during combat in Vietnam, told Army Times that "people are shocked when I add the numbers up," but what he's discussing, he said, is not significantly higher than what is being suffered by U.S. in Afghanistan now.
His reports are compiled with information gathered in theater and from research conducted beforehand. McCaffrey traveled to the war zone for this report as an academic from West Point at the invitation of theater commander Gen. David Petraeus, commander of Central Command, and Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the operational commander in Afghanistan, he said.
Building a viable Afghan state with its own security force, he said, is a three- to 10-year commitment, as it is unlikely the U.S. will achieve the political and military goals set forth by President Barack Obama in his Dec. 1 speech announcing a 30,000-troop increase.
Plans to grow the Afghan national army to 240,000 by 2013, McCaffrey said, "is a growing success story," but the police force, which is now up to 92,000, continues to be a "work in progress" that is six years behind the army in development. To increase the police force to a level of integrity that can operate at village level in a competent manner, he said, will take a decade.
The addition of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan, he said, will enable McChrystal to put soldiers on the ground in areas that have been impossible to cover because of the size of the country, which he described as "bigger than the state of Texas" with 28 million people and hostile terrain.
He noted that until last year the U.S. had been in Afghanistan with only one brigade.
"In theory they're going to partner with Afghan units and [that will] get the Afghans out there," he said.
And, he said, the enemy has been attacking in battalion-sized formations. He recommended that U.S. units make sure they have supporting artillery whether they're in a combat outpost or on the move.