Earlier this week, White House press secretary Jay Carney took a beating on the issue of Afghanistan, following a spate of bad news from the war zone—including more American deaths at the hands of supposed Afghan allies. He was peppered with questions from reporters about the viability, purpose and waning public support for the American mission there. No less than ten times, Carney repeated some version of this justification:
What the President did when he reviewed U.S. policy in Afghanistan was insist that we focus our attention on what our absolute goals in the country should be, and prioritize them. And he made clear that the number-one priority, the reason why U.S. troops are in Afghanistan in the first place, is to disrupt, dismantle and ultimately defeat al Qaeda. It was, after all, al Qaeda, based in Afghanistan, that launched the attacks against the United States on September 11th, 2001.
Finally, ABC’s Jake Tapper asked Carney when was “the last time US troops in Afghanistan killed anybody associated with Al Qaeda.” Carney didn’t have an answer, and referred Tapper to the Defense Department and NATO’s International Security Assistance Force.
I queried those agencies Tuesday and got an answer today. According to a Defense Department spokesman, the most recent operation that killed an Al Qaeda fighter was in April 2011—ten months ago. However, there was an “Al Qaeda foreign fighter” captured near Kabul in May 2011, and an “Al Qaeda facilitator” captured in the Paktiya province on January 30 of this year.
By comparison, there have been 466 coalition fatalities since April 2011.
Given Carney’s repeated insistence that the “number one” purpose of the American mission is to “disrupt, dismantle and ultimately defeat” Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and given the ongoing sacrifices the country is making to achieve that goal, it’s very important to keep these benchmarks in mind. It is surprising Carney wasn’t aware of them, or didn’t disclose them—though, perhaps it’s not.