Afghan Body — Make That B-day — Count

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Major General Richard Mills in Afghanistan in January / Marine photo by Timothy Chesnavage

The U.S. military has shied away from body counts of enemy killed since the numbers proved near worthless in Vietnam. But they’re apparently using birthday counts as a yardstick for measuring progress in Afghanistan. Marine Major Gen. Richard Mills, who just returned from a year-long tour in the country’s violent Helmand Province, cited a couple such numbers Wednesday during a talk at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

“When we got there, it was estimated the average regimental or battalion commander — whatever you want to call him — in the insurgency was about 35 years old,” he said, referring to units of about 500 men. “When we left, he was 23. Why? Because the rest of them are dead. What does that mean? It means they’re promoting younger and younger men — less-experienced men — into greater responsibility, and that’s a weakness.”

Math isn’t my strong suit, but this suggests by this time next year the average Taliban commander in southern Afghanistan will be 11.