KABUL, Afghanistan - More U.S. military deaths in the last 10 months of the Afghan war than in the first five years of the conflict. More boots on the ground than in Iraq.
As the U.S. military death toll in the Afghan conflict reached the 1,000 mark in a counting by the Associated Press, a fight that has become "Obama's war" now faces its greatest challenge - a high-risk campaign to win over a hostile population in the Taliban's southern heartland.
More casualties are expected when the campaign kicks into high gear this summer. The results may determine the outcome of a nearly nine-year conflict that has become the focus of America's fight against Islamist militancy.
The 1,000th U.S. military death occurred in a roadside bombing Friday - just before the Memorial Day weekend when America honors the dead in all its wars.
A NATO statement did not identify or give the nationality of the victim. A U.S. spokesman, Col. Wayne Shanks, said the trooper was American - the 32d U.S. war death this month by an Associated Press count.
The AP bases its tally on Defense Department reports of deaths suffered as a direct result of the Afghan conflict, including personnel assigned to units in Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Uzbekistan. Other news organizations count deaths suffered by service members assigned elsewhere as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, which includes operations in the Philippines, the Horn of Africa, and the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The milestone reflects the acceleration in fighting since President Obama shifted the focus from Iraq to Afghanistan, where al-Qaeda plotted the 9/11 terror attacks in the United States.
Obama's decision brought a heavy price.
In the last 10 months, at least 313 U.S. service members have been killed in the war - more than the 295 who died in the first five years of the conflict. More than 430 of the U.S. dead were killed since Obama took office in January 2009.
The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan has now surpassed the total in Iraq - roughly 94,000 in Afghanistan compared with 92,000 in Iraq. In 2008, the U.S. force in Afghanistan numbered about 30,000.
At least 675 troops from allied countries have also died in the war, according to an AP tally based on announcements of foreign governments. They include 288 service members from Britain.
The 1,000th U.S. death comes midway between Obama's decision in December to send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan and a review of the war's progress that he has promised by the end of the year.
After a long and wrenching conflict in Iraq - which has claimed nearly 4,400 American military lives - Obama has promised not to be backed into an open-ended war in Afghanistan. He has insisted that some U.S. troops will come home beginning in July 2011.
That has not been enough to satisfy his antiwar supporters. At the same time, mid-2011 may be too soon to turn the tide of the war.
As casualties rise, the slide in overall support for the war may accelerate.
A majority of Americans - 52 percent - say the war is not worth the cost. The negative assessment in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll followed a brief rise in support for the war after Obama refocused the U.S. war plan last year.
Those figures could change dramatically depending on the outcome of the coming operation in Kandahar, the biggest city in the south, with about a half million people, and the Taliban's former spiritual headquarters. U.S. commanders believe Kandahar is the key to the ethnic Pashtun south, the main theater in the war.
The operation will pose the greatest test for the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy, which focuses on protecting civilians, bolstering the Afghan government, and rushing in economic development to win public support. It is also expected to lead to a spike in U.S. casualties.
Many Pashtuns prefer negotiations with the Taliban, even if talks end with a significant political role for the Islamist movement.
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2. Troy Shane Ezernack
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3. James Floyd Fordyce
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SOURCE: Associated Press