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U.S. troop deaths in Afghanistan hit 2,000

KABUL, Afghanistan -- The killing of an American serviceman in an exchange of gunfire with allied Afghan soldiers pushed U.S. military deaths in the war to 2,000, a cold reminder of the perils that remain after an 11-year conflict that now gets little public interest at home.

The toll has climbed steadily in recent months, with a spate of attacks by Afghan army and police, supposed allies, against American and NATO troops.

That has raised troubling questions about whether countries in the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan will achieve their aim of helping the government in Kabul and its forces stand on their own after most foreign troops depart in little more than two years.

"The tally is modest by the standards of war historically, but every fatality is a tragedy and 11 years is too long," said Michael O'Hanlon, a fellow at the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C. "All that is internalized, however, in an American public that has been watching this campaign for a long time."

Attacks by Afghan soldiers or police, or insurgents disguised in their uniforms, have killed 52 American and other NATO troops so far this year.

The insider attacks are considered one of the most serious threats to the U.S. exit strategy. In its latest incarnation, the strategy has focused on training Afghan forces to take over security nationwide, allowing most foreign troops to go home by the end of 2014.

The first 33,000 U.S. troops had withdrawn by the end of September, leaving 68,000 still in Afghanistan. A decision on how many will remain next year will be taken after the U.S. presidential elections. NATO currently has 108,000 troops, including U.S. forces, in Afghanistan, down from nearly 150,000 at its peak last year.

The program to train and equip 350,000 Afghan policemen and soldiers has cost the U.S. taxpayer more than $22 billion in the past three years.

In Washington, Pentagon press secretary George Little said 2,000 deaths is one of the "arbitrary milestones defined by others" that the U.S. administration does not mark. "The fact of the matter is that America is safer because of all of those who have served in this war, including our fallen heroes," he said.

In addition to the 2,000 Americans killed since the war began on Oct. 7, 2001, at least 1,190 coalition troops from other countries have died, according to iCasualties.org, an independent organization that tracks the deaths.

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