US ends Taliban body count, cites focus on aiding Afghans

By Fisnik Abrashi
Associated Press / July 28, 2009

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KABUL - The US military in Afghanistan stopped releasing body counts of insurgents believed killed in operations because the tolls distract from the US objective of protecting Afghans, a spokesman said yesterday.

The number of insurgents killed in Afghanistan has provided a bloody scorecard for the deteriorating conflict. Attacks by Taliban fighters have risen steadily the last three years, and militants now control wide swaths of countryside.

Nearly 3,800 insurgents were killed in 2008, based on figures collected by the Associated Press. Some of those numbers came from US military statements; others came from Afghan authorities. So far in 2009, more than 2,310 insurgents have been killed.

The US military policy on releasing insurgent body counts has changed several times during the eight-year conflict, depending on the commander in charge.

The latest decision to stop releasing body counts was made in mid-June when General Stanley McChrystal took command of all US and NATO troops in the country, said spokesman Colonel Greg Julian.

The militant death toll “distracts from the real objectives and isn’t necessary to communicate what we’re trying to achieve,’’ Julian said. “We want to separate the people from the insurgency by improving their quality of life and opportunities.’’

Since taking command in Afghanistan, McChrystal has said repeatedly that the military needs to protect Afghan villagers instead of chasing and killing insurgents.

Civilian deaths caused by US and NATO military operations have long been a source of friction between President Hamid Karzai and the international force. Such deaths alienate Afghan villagers, causing a loss of support for the international mission and the US-backed Afghan government.

The US military hopes to focus more on spreading the word about military efforts to help Afghans rebuild their lives by improving access to government and economic resources, Julian said.

Also yesterday, the British Ministry of Defense announced that two British soldiers were killed by a bomb in Helmand province, raising to 22 the number of British troops killed in Afghanistan this month.