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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

Middle East


A Deadly Week in Afghanistan

June 9, 2010 - 6:21 PM | by: Justin Fishel

Washington D.C. — Already this week has seen at least 20 coalition deaths in Afghanistan, putting it on track to be one of the deadliest in the 9 year war.

On Monday alone, 5 soldiers were killed when their vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device in eastern Afghanistan; another 5 died the same day in separate combat incidents.

Secretary Gates told reporters in London on Wednesday the spike in violence was anticipated. “We do expect a high level of violence, particularly this summer because we are going into places where the Taliban has basically been in control for two years or more,” Gates said. “We do expect this to be a very tough summer.”

Top military officials have warned repeatedly that fatalities would spike as the U.S. military completes its surge into southern Afghanistan. There are roughly 94,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan now, and that number is expected to top off at just over 100,000 by the end of the summer.

On Wednesday four soldiers died when insurgents shot down a NATO helicopter is southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province, a rare type of attack by the Taliban. Most helicopters crashes in the war have been caused by mechanical failure or weather. “It’s been a tough week,” Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters soon after that attack. “The level of activity is high… and the opportunities for hostile contact have gone up,” Whitman said.

At the end of May the U.S. military reached the grim milestone of 1,000 deaths in Afghanistan, and already that number has jumped to 1,029. 2009 is the deadliest year on record for the U.S. at 310, and with 155 killed so far this year, 2010 is on track to be just as bloody.

Secretary Gates said if the coalition governments can’t show progress by the end of this year, public support for the war could be lost. “All of us, for our publics, are going to have to show by the end of the year that our strategy is on the right track and making some headway,” Gates said. “The one thing that I think none of the publics, and I would say including the American public, will tolerate is the perception of a stalemate in which we’re losing young men.” But, Gates added, “if we are making progress, if it’s clear that we have the right strategy, then I think the people will be patient.”

The defense secretary also suggested that winning the war will have to include reconciliation with at least some elements of the Taliban. “At this point the Taliban are part of the political fabric of Afghanistan, and to adopt a strategy that basically says we’re going to eliminate the Taliban I think is unrealistic,” Gates said.

On Thursday Gates will meet in Brussels with NATO leaders and the Commander of International Security Assistance Forces, General Stanley McChrystal. He says he’s “pretty confident” General McChrystal can show progress over the next several months.