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When U.S. combat deaths drop to zero

A soldier salutes the flag during a welcome home ceremony for troops arriving from Afghanistan on June 15, 2011 to Fort Carson, Colorado.
A soldier salutes the flag during a welcome home ceremony for troops arriving from Afghanistan on June 15, 2011 to Fort Carson, Colorado.
The United States has been at war in Afghanistan longer than any conflict in our history. Regardless of what one might think of the war in terms of strategic value, it has been a brutal, deadly conflict, seemingly without end.
But as U.S. forces prepare for the conflict's end, we can already see the changes to U.S. casualty rates. Indeed, the month that just ended last night, March 2014, marked an extraordinary milestone: as Hayes Brown noted, it was "the first time in more than a decade that there were zero U.S. fatalities among American troops engaging in combat."

In Iraq, the death toll reached 4,474 before the last soldier fell in November 2011. For years after the war's launch in 2003, no months passed where at least one American didn't die in battle and then only towards the end of the conflict did the numbers taper off enough to have a month where the only fatalities were non-combat related. Based on information collected at the website iCasualties, which pulls from Pentagon data, it is the first time since July 2007 that no Americans were killed in Afghanistan in support of Operation: Enduring Freedom. The worst single month for U.S. forces in that conflict was July 2010, amid the summer fighting season, during which 65 Americans died. At that point, 98,000 American forces were stationed in Afghanistan amid the surge of 30,000 additional soldiers into the country. To date, 3,481 U.S. military personnel have lost their life in Afghanistan.

This is not to say Afghanistan -- or Iraq, for that matter -- was peaceful last month. The facts show otherwise.
But when it comes to asking Americans to make the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefield, when U.S. fatalities literally drop to zero, it is a heartening development.
NBC News' report offered some additional details:

The two previous times the U.S. military went an entire month without any service member deaths in any theater of "Operation Enduring Freedom" — the U.S. war in Afghanistan — were in July 2002 and January 2007, according to data on the website, which tracks deaths and injuries among coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. Two coalition soldiers died in Afghanistan over the course of March 2014, but both were considered non-combat casualties. President Barack Obama has ordered the Pentagon to plan for an "orderly withdrawal" of American troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year.

For too long, we've begun to think of some trends as simply unavoidable, as if a "new normal" were somehow permanent. Among them was the assumption that American troops will be slain in battle as the war in Afghanistan continues.
But as we're occasionally reminded, there's nothing permanent about it.