The number of people killed by the novel coronavirus in the United States has exceeded U.S. casualties incurred throughout the conflict in Afghanistan, the longest war in U.S. history.
COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. reached 2,479 on Sunday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, surpassing the 2,445 casualties recorded among Pentagon personnel and civilians as a result of the U.S.-led military intervention in Afghanistan and related missions between October 7, 2001 and March 23 of this year. As President Donald Trump battles what has become the world’s largest known coronavirus outbreak at home, his administration has also sought to ensure a historic peace process in Afghanistan, where warring sides have struggled to conduct talks amid ongoing unrest and a pandemic.
The U.S.-backed, Kabul-based government and the insurgent Taliban movement were set to hold their first intra-Afghan dialogue Saturday, but the Taliban backed out, arguing the government team “violates our principled policy and the agreement concluded with America” on February 29.
“In order to reach true and lasting peace, the aforementioned team must be agreed upon by all effective Afghan sides so that it can represent all sides however majority of other sides have rejected the current announced team,” Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said Saturday.
Both the U.S. and the Taliban have urged Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s administration to quickly release up to 5,000 prisoners in government custody, especially due to coronavirus concerns. As of Sunday, Afghanistan has reported 145 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including three deaths and three recoveries, while the U.S. has registered more than 140,000 cases of the new coronavirus illness.
Describing the rapid coronavirus spread in the U.S., Trump told a press briefing Sunday that the “peak in death rate is likely to hit in two weeks.” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said U.S. COVID-19 fatalities could reach between 100,000 and 200,000 based on current rates, with “millions” of infections. Trump said up to 2.2 million may die without government intervention and the public’s practice of social distancing.
The U.S. Civil War, which remains the deadliest conflict in the country’s history, saw an estimated 620,000 casualties among soldiers of the internationally recognized Union government and the breakaway Confederacy. In addition to combat, disease killed many troops between 1861 and 1865.
Today, hundreds of Pentagon personnel have reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 and the U.S. military has taken drastic steps to try to curb the spread of the sickness throughout its ranks. These measures include canceling major exercises, restricting movement and withdrawing from frontline bases in Iraq, where tensions have mounted between U.S. troops and local militias opposed to foreign military presence yet supportive of neighboring Iran.
While Trump and his top officials have resisted Baghdad’s calls for U.S. troops to leave, the administration vowed to begin pulling soldiers out of Afghanistan should discussions between the Afghan government and the Taliban proceed, and on the condition that the country would not allow itself to be used by transnational jihadi groups such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) to threaten the U.S. and its allies. The 9/11 attacks launched by Al-Qaeda in September 2001 killed an estimated 2,996 people, including 19 hijackers.
The ensuing “War on Terror” launched by former President George W. Bush’s administration impacted not only Afghanistan, which saw tens of thousands of casualties among local soldiers, militants and civilians over the past 18 years, but also neighboring Pakistan as well as other countries as far away as Africa and Southeast Asia. Trump has criticized his past two predecessors’ handling of the conflict, seeking to bring U.S. troops home, though he has expanded the country’s military presence in parts of the Middle East in response to a perceived threat posed by Iran, which has also been hit hard by the new coronavirus.