Burden sharing

I have a new post over at Think Tank. I was taken aback recently when a senior U.S. military officer I happened to be talking with launched into ardent praise of Estonia, for the performance of its soldiers in Afghanistan. This led to a conversation about per-capita burdens in the Afghan war. All the grousing ...

Jim Watson - Pool/Getty Images
Jim Watson - Pool/Getty Images
Jim Watson - Pool/Getty Images

I have a new post over at Think Tank.

I was taken aback recently when a senior U.S. military officer I happened to be talking with launched into ardent praise of Estonia, for the performance of its soldiers in Afghanistan. This led to a conversation about per-capita burdens in the Afghan war. All the grousing and lobbying by U.S. public officials about NATO’s contributions might lead a casual newspaper reader to believe that the American population has borne a heavily disproportionate share of the hard fighting against the Taliban. That is not the case. While traveling to Canada to speak about Afghanistan from time to time, for example, I’ve been struck by how heavily Afghan casualties have fallen on that country, which has essentially not been called upon to take casualties in a foreign war since Korea.

Using Afghan-war fatality figures from ICasualties.org and population estimates as of July, 2009 from the C.I.A. World Factbook, and rounding up numbers, I took out my calculator this morning and came up with the following ratios of deaths-per-population among coalition countries that have fought in the Afghan war, since 2001, starting with the most burdened:

I have a new post over at Think Tank.

I was taken aback recently when a senior U.S. military officer I happened to be talking with launched into ardent praise of Estonia, for the performance of its soldiers in Afghanistan. This led to a conversation about per-capita burdens in the Afghan war. All the grousing and lobbying by U.S. public officials about NATO’s contributions might lead a casual newspaper reader to believe that the American population has borne a heavily disproportionate share of the hard fighting against the Taliban. That is not the case. While traveling to Canada to speak about Afghanistan from time to time, for example, I’ve been struck by how heavily Afghan casualties have fallen on that country, which has essentially not been called upon to take casualties in a foreign war since Korea.

Using Afghan-war fatality figures from ICasualties.org and population estimates as of July, 2009 from the C.I.A. World Factbook, and rounding up numbers, I took out my calculator this morning and came up with the following ratios of deaths-per-population among coalition countries that have fought in the Afghan war, since 2001, starting with the most burdened:

Denmark, 1 per 177,000 (31 deaths)
Estonia, 1 per 186,000 (7 deaths)
United Kingdom, 1 per 224,000 (272 deaths)
Canada, 1 per 236,000 (140 deaths)
United States, 1 per 302,000 (1017 deaths)
Latvia, 1 per 733,000 (3 deaths)
Netherlands, 1 per 810,000 (21 deaths)

For the rest of this post, visit my New Yorker blog, Think Tank.

Steve Coll is the president of the New America Foundation and a staff writer at the New Yorker.

Steve Coll is president of the New America Foundation and the author of Ghost Wars and The Bin Ladens. This article is adapted from his recent testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives and posted here with permission.

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