The cost of war is coming into painful focus for Americans as the month of August closes as the deadliest so far in the decade-long war in Afghanistan, and as a Congressional watchdog releases research showing that tens of billions of dollars meant for contractors in both the Afghan and Iraq conflicts have been squandered.
As of last night, the US military had lost 66 personnel in Afghanistan since the start of the month, topping by one the death toll for July 2010, which was previously the deadliest single month since the invasion was first ordered by President George W Bush in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
While a disturbing statistic by any measure, particularly at a time when President Barack Obama has ordered the withdrawal by September 2012 of all 33,000 of the extra troops he sent in as part of a surge strategy in Afghanistan, it was skewed by a single attack on a Chinook helicopter on 6 August which killed 30 US service personnel, including 17 Navy Seals. It marked the single-largest loss of life since the start of the war.
Other nations contributing to the Nato force have also seen losses this month, including four French and two British fatalities. These have come, however, at a time of relative calm on the battlefields of Afghanistan, thanks in part to the observance of Ramadan and also, strategists say, to a sense among Taliban commanders that they can afford to limit attacks ahead of the withdrawal of so many American troops. Meanwhile, in Washington, the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan will today release a report which suggests that one in every six dollars of taxpayers' money spent on supporting contractors in both countries has been wasted because of a variety of factors, including inefficiency, a lack of spending oversight, poor accountability, as well as malfeasance on the part of contractors and federal employees overseeing them.
In both wars, contractors working on behalf of the US on reconstruction projects have equalled or even outnumbered the soldiers deployed to fight. According to The Washington Post, the report says that, conservatively, $30bn (£18.5bn) has been wasted since the wars began. It warns that unless the governments in Baghdad and Kabul properly sustain the projects after American contractors have left, the levels of waste will be even higher.
It was partly because of the growing impatience with the Afghan war that President Obama unveiled his plan in June to "draw down" troops, including the withdrawal of 10,000 before the end of this year. His order was not universally welcomed by his commanders, nor by some hawkish politicians on Capitol Hill, notably Senator John McCain, who is among those arguing that the US is reducing its military commitment far too soon.
The Chinook was shot down in Wardak province, south-west of Kabul. The personnel on board had been dispatched to help US Army Rangers battling Taliban fighters on the ground.
An additional 23 American soldiers were killed in separate incidents this month in Kandahar and Helmand provinces in southern Afghanistan, the main focus of Afghan and coalition forces. The remaining 13 were killed in the east of the country.