Death Toll for American Afghan Aid Workers Nears 300, New Watchdog Report Finds

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A U.S. Army Soldier stands perimeter watch amid a convoy of MRAP vehicles during a Key Leader Engagement between members of Provincial Reconstruction Team Farah and the Farah Director of Transportation (U.S. Army/Sgt. Maj. Concordio Borja Jr.)
A U.S. Army Soldier stands perimeter watch amid a convoy of MRAP vehicles during a Key Leader Engagement between members of Provincial Reconstruction Team Farah and the Farah Director of Transportation (U.S. Army/Sgt. Maj. Concordio Borja Jr.)

On April 6, 2013, three U.S. troops were killed by a suicide bomber while running a security patrol for an aid mission to donate books to an Afghan school in northeastern Badakhshan province.

On August 6, 2010, six American medical aid workers were among 10 killed in trying to deliver health care to Afghans in southern Zabul province.

The incidents were cited in a report released Tuesday by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) on the "The Human Cost of Reconstruction In Afghanistan," which estimated that at least 5,135 casualties have been incurred in humanitarian and reconstruction efforts to build roads, canals and other projects since 2002.

The report said that at least 284 Americans were killed in Afghanistan "while performing reconstruction or stabilization missions" -- 218 U.S. service members and 68 civilians.

Related: US Officials Fudged Numbers to Show Victory in Afghanistan: Report

Another 245 U.S. service members and 76 U.S. civilians were wounded, SIGAR said. In addition, 100 troops from coalition partner nations were killed and 105 wounded. Additionally, 124 third country nationals on aid missions were killed, while 87 were wounded and 59 were kidnapped, the report said.

The report also identified a total of 276 casualties in U.S. aid efforts associated with "insider attacks," or assaults by Afghan soldiers or police. Those are similar to the one last Saturday in eastern Nangarhar province that killed Sgt. Javier Jaguar Gutierrez, 28, of San Antonio, Texas, and Sgt. Antonio Rey Rodriguez, 28, of Las Cruces, New Mexico.

On Monday night, President Donald Trump left a campaign rally in New Hampshire to attend the return of the remains of the two soldiers assigned to 3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, to Dover Air Force Base, Delaware.

According to SIGAR, 59 U.S. service members have been killed in insider attacks and another 49 wounded in reconstruction and stabilization efforts in Afghanistan.

SIGAR billed the report as the first attempt at an official accounting of the risks involved in humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan and "the number of people killed, wounded or kidnapped while doing these activities."

The total reconstruction-related casualties included 2,214 killed and 2,921 wounded. The report also listed 1,182 individuals who were kidnapped or went missing.

The toll for both Afghan civilians and troops involved in the U.S. efforts was staggering --1,578 killed, 2,246 wounded and 1,004 kidnapped.

"These include 1,447 Afghan civilians killed, 2,008 wounded, and 1,003 kidnapped. Of the Afghans killed, 65 were bystanders," the report said.

In its conclusion to the report, SIGAR said that "while considerable effort is made to track the amount of U.S. dollars spent, this review shows that we do not adequately capture the human cost of conducting reconstruction and stabilization projects while combat operations are still ongoing, especially [among] third country nationals and Afghans."

In the past, SIGAR reports have often been met by pushback from the U.S. military or the State Department on the methods used and the objectivity of SIGAR officials, but there was no immediate questioning of the latest report by government officials.

In an appendix to the report, the U.S. Agency of International Development, part of the State Department, said that USAID "thanks SIGAR for exploring this important topic."

The report relied on data provided by the service branches, the Defense Casualty Assistance System, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other sources, SIGAR said.

The release of the report came as the Trump administration increasingly questions the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan, where more than 2,400 U.S. troops have been killed since 2001.

U.S. efforts to broker a ceasefire between the Taliban and the Kabul government have stalled. In December Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that the U.S. was considering withdrawals to bring down the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan from an estimated 13,000 to 8,600.

The release of the SIGAR report also coincided with a hearing Tuesday of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Afghanistan.

In his testimony, retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, chairman of the Institute for the Study of War and an advisor to Trump, said "I share every member's frustration" with 18 years of war in Afghanistan, but he called for maintaining a reduced U.S. presence in Afghanistan to protect the homeland.

In his opening statement, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, the Committee's chairman, said that "A precipitous U.S. withdrawal would give terrorist groups in Afghanistan free rein to regroup tired forces, plot against American interests and execute terrorist attacks."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com

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