Afghan army, police take increasing casualties

More than 300 Afghan soldiers and policemen are dying each month as the Afghan national security forces assume increasing responsibility for the war, military officials said Monday.

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi said deaths have risen in the past year as the army and police have taken over the lead role for security in areas covering 75 percent of the country's population. He said on average 110 soldiers and 200 policemen have been killed in action each month.

Azimi, speaking to reporters at NATO headquarters by video conference from Kabul, did not specify by how much those numbers had grown this year.

In contrast, fatalities among NATO soldiers have fallen steadily since mid-2012. This coincided with the drawdown of foreign troops, who are scheduled to end their combat role in 2014.

U.S. President Barack Obama has pledged to wind down the 11-year-old war, even as the U.S. Congress and some NATO allies press for an accelerated withdrawal. The intent, approved by NATO in 2010, is to remove combat forces by the end of 2014 but to continue yet-to-be-defined security assistance.

The number of U.S. and NATO troops has decreased steadily throughout this year, from a peak of about 140,000 to just over 100,000 now. Commanders are now drawing up plans for the drawdown to continue into 2014.

In July, 45 U.S. and NATO troops died from all causes, in August 53, in September 27, in October 23, and in November 17, according to statistics compiled by The Associated Press.

"The capability of the Afghan (security forces) has really increased, and we are capable of taking over security for all of Afghanistan by 2014," Azimi said.

But while troops can take on the Taliban insurgents in battle, the military still has deficiencies in the nascent air force, military intelligence, fire support capabilities, and in the engineering and demining branches, he said.

Maj. Gen. Jim Ferron, deputy commander of NATO's training mission, said there had been a delay in reaching the full recruitment goal of 352,000 Afghan troops and police due to the vetting procedures put in place after a spate of insider attacks on NATO troops.

Originally, the security forces were planned to reach the 352,000 figure before the end of 2012, but this will not take place until next February or March, Ferron said.

The beefed-up vetting procedures for potential recruits include getting letters of recommendation from tribal elders, numerous interviews, biometric registration and other measures, he said.

This year, more than 60 NATO service members have been killed in attacks by members of the Afghan security forces or insurgents dressed in their uniforms. Dozens of Afghan troops also have died in similar attacks.