KABUL, Afghanistan — As the U.S. military death toll in the Afghan conflict reached the 1,000 mark, the war now faces its greatest challenge — a high-risk campaign to win over a hostile population in the Taliban's southern heartland.
More casualties are expected when the campaign kicks into high gear this summer. The results may determine the outcome of a nearly nine-year conflict that has become the focus of America's fight against Islamist militancy.
The 1,000th U.S. military death occurred in a roadside bombing Friday — just before the Memorial Day weekend when America honors the dead in all its wars.
The American trooper was the 32nd U.S. war death this month, according to an Associated Press count.
The AP bases its tally on Defense Department reports of deaths suffered as a direct result of the Afghan conflict, including personnel assigned to units in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Uzbekistan. Other news organizations count deaths suffered by service members assigned elsewhere as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, which includes operations in the Philippines, the Horn of Africa and at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
For many of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the 1,000 mark passed without fanfare. Capt. Nick Ziemba of Wilbraham, Mass., serving with the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment in southern Afghanistan, said 1,000 was an arbitrary number and would have no impact on troop morale or operations. "We're going to continue to work," he said.