Mounting death toll for Afghan troops: US general

Afghan National Army soldiers keep watch during a combat training exercise at the Afghan National Military training center in Kabul on October 22, 2014 (AFP Photo/Wakil Kohsar)

Washington (AFP) - Afghan troops are dying on the battlefield in unprecedented numbers after having taken over from NATO-led forces, and the death toll is "not sustainable," a top US commander in Afghanistan said Wednesday.

Afghan army and police have suffered a 6.5 percent spike in casualties this year, with 4,634 killed in combat in 2014, compared to 4,350 killed for all of 2013, said Lieutenant General Joseph Anderson, the number two ranking US officer in Afghanistan.

Afghan forces are being outfitted with more protective gear and adopting more effective tactics to counter roadside bombs planted by Taliban insurgents, "but they do need to decrease their casualty rate," Anderson told reporters via video link from Kabul.

The Kabul government's forces had improved their emergency medical care for wounded soldiers but there was more work to be done as the current casualty rate was untenable, he said.

"All those things have to continue to improve to reduce those numbers, because those numbers are not sustainable in the long term," he said.

The general, head of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) joint command, added that the casualty numbers had been expected to rise with Afghan forces now fully in charge of security and NATO combat forces rapidly scaling back.

"We expected that (death toll) actually to be much higher based on the role they've played and where they've been," Anderson said.

Despite the mounting casualties, Anderson said "the Afghan national security forces are winning, and this is a hugely capable fighting force who have been holding their ground against the enemy."

The Afghans have struggled to build up emergency medical care for soldiers wounded on the battlefield after having relied on NATO aircraft for evacuations.

Until last year, the number of Afghans who survived their combat wounds was less than 50 percent, a dismal rate comparable to what American soldiers faced 150 years ago in the US Civil War, according to military officials.

With nearly 9,000 Afghan soldiers killed in less than two years, the numbers far exceed the death toll for American troops in both Afghanistan and Iraq over the past decade. More than 4,400 Americans were killed in Iraq between 2003 to 2011 and more than 2,000 in Afghanistan since 2001.

There are 38,000 troops in NATO's US-led force in Afghanistan and by the end of the year the number is due to drop to 12,500 troops, including 9,800 Americans.