Commentary Magazine


War Statistics: Iraq vs. Afghanistan

The New York Times has a front-page story today about the worsening security situation across Afghanistan. It’s hard to deny that violence has been getting worse, but for some perspective, turn to the Op-Ed page, where the crew from the Brookings Institution produces one of their periodic charts offering statistics on Afghanistan and Iraq. It notes Iraqi civilian deaths from war in August 2010 were 400. The comparable figure for Afghanistan is 150. That’s actually a decrease from the number of Afghans killed in August 2009 — 230. The decrease from August 2009 to August 2010 may be a statistical fluke (overall violence has been greater this year), but it suggests that there is some good news mixed in with the bad. And the fact that even today Iraq is suffering more civilian casualties than Afghanistan should caution us against concluding that Afghanistan is a lost cause.

Yes, Afghanistan is getting worse — but it’s not nearly as bad as Iraq was (or in some respects, still is). If we could turn around the situation in Iraq, there is no reason we can’t turn around Afghanistan as well. But that will involve hard fighting and, in the short-term at least, a further uptick in both American and Afghan casualties. While this is going on, it’s imperative that Americans not panic and assume that the situation is hopeless. It isn’t.