A Sad Milestone…

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Last night’s crash of a helicopter in southern Afghanistan has killed nine U.S. troops and made 2010 the deadliest year of the war — and there are still three months to go. The crash brings to 529 the toll of allied troops killed this year (342 of them American), eclipsing last year’s record total of 521, including 317 U.S. troops.

Helicopters are vital to waging war in Afghanistan’s rugged terrain. But the country’s mountains, the resulting thinner air which makes it more risky to fly, and the utility of darkness for Special Operations missions like the one that crashed, make for a dangerous combination. While the Taliban said they shot down the helicopter, U.S. officials said there was no evidence of enemy fire in Zabul Province, the site of the crash.

Army UH-60 Black Hawks on a night mission in Afghanistan/DoD photo

Today is the 264th day of the year, meaning the U.S. is losing more than one troop per day in the conflict. By comparison, 51 U.S. troops have died in Iraq this year, or about one every three days.

One key difference: in Iraq, the U.S. deaths in 2010 account for 100 percent of those killed, according to the website, which has consistently provided the fastest and most accurate accounting of casualties in the two wars. In Afghanistan, U.S. deaths are 65 percent of the allied total.