KABUL — The number of international troops killed in Afghanistan this year, already by far the deadliest in the nine-year campaign against the Taliban, has passed 700, an independent website said Tuesday.
The number of coalition forces killed fighting the Taliban in 2010 stood at 701, around a third higher than last year, iCasualties.org said, days after US President Barack Obama said the war strategy was “on track”.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is fighting an increasingly deadly and expanding Taliban insurgency and the majority of the dead — 493 — are US troops, followed by Britons with 101, the website added.
When asked about the figures, an ISAF spokesman 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.”
Obama’s review came a year after he ordered an extra 30,000 US troops into the war in a bid to defeat Al-Qaeda, reverse the Taliban insurgency and allow American forces home as soon as possible.
The review indicated that plans to start a limited withdrawal of some US forces from July 2011 were still on course. International forces are due to hand over control of security to their Afghan counterparts in 2014.
But Obama warned that gains made in Taliban strongholds such as Kandahar and Helmand provinces in the south were fragile and reversible.
The Taliban were ousted from power by a US-led invasion in 2001 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 to the ISAF force are the United States, with 90,000 troops, and Britain, with around 9,000.
The total international troop death toll last year stood at 521 while for 2008 the number was 295, according to iCasualties.
Opinion polls suggest that support for the war is dwindling in many countries that contribute troops to the international force.
Last week, 60 percent of Americans surveyed for an ABC News/Washington Post poll thought the war was not worth fighting, up seven points since July.
But 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.
It said insurgents killed seven times more civilians than NATO-led troops, with the rising numbers linked to a near-doubling of the number of civilian assassinations and more frequent home-made bomb attacks.
The latest figures came as The New York Times reported that senior US military commanders in Afghanistan are pushing to expand special operations ground raids across the border in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas.
But the story was denied by a spokesman for ISAF, who said there was “absolutely no truth” to any suggestion that ground operations into Pakistan were planned.