JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight: meanwhile in Afghanistan. Much attention on this program and elsewhere has been given to the American military personnel who have died in Iraq, but not so much to those in Afghanistan. Here now is a catch-up report on those deaths, Jeffrey Brown reports.
JEFFREY BROWN: From Oct. 7, 2001, the official of the Afghan war, until today, 191 Americans from all branches of the military have died serving in Afghanistan according to the Pentagon. Last year was the deadliest yet, with 92 American military killed as combat operations intensified in the face of a revived the Taliban/al-Qaida insurgency.
The military deaths, hostile and non-hostile, include 144 from the Army, 16 from the Navy, 14 from the Marine Corps, and 17 from the Air Force. The CIA has acknowledged the loss of four of its personnel.
The military deaths number 186 men and five women; 28 officers, and 163 noncommissioned officers and enlisted personnel; 158 are from the active forces and 33 from the reserves and National Guard; 37 of those killed were over age 35; 32 were between age 31 and 35; 52 between 25 and 30; 33 were age 22 to 24; and 37 were under age 22. They hailed from 45 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
The American military deaths have come in a variety of operations as the overall effort has shifted through the years. The first American to die was a CIA paramilitary officer.
Johnny "Mike" Spann, a Marine Corps veteran turned CIA operative, was killed during an uprising by Taliban and al-Qaida prisoners at a centuries old prison called Qala-i-Jangi.
His widow, Shannon Spann:
SHANNON SPANN: Mike is a hero not because of the way that he died, but rather because of the way that he lived. Mike was prepared to give his life in Afghanistan because he already gave his life every day to us at home.
JEFFREY BROWN: After the ouster of the Taliban, the fighting shifted into a counter-insurgency operation, in Taliban strongholds in the South and in the mountainous eastern border with Pakistan, an al-Qaida area.
In March, 2002, eight Americans died in Operation Anaconda, a three-week joint campaign with Afghan allies to encircle al-Qaida and Taliban fighters in the eastern mountains. Seven of them tied in one day. Three Army Rangers, one Army Airman and two Air Force special operators including para rescue man Jason Cunningham, were killed after their Chinook helicopter crash-landed on a mountain. Cunningham saved ten lives on the mountain that day and was posthumously awarded the Air Force cross.
The mission had been to rescue a Navy Seal, Neal Roberts, who himself had fallen from a helicopter on a previous attempt to insert a Seal reconnaissance team. Roberts was surrounded where he fell injured, but continued to fight. He exhausted his ammunition and was killed on the high mountain top that the military now calls Roberts Ridge.
Perhaps the most publicized casualty of the Afghan War came in 2004 when Pat Tillman, a former professional football player turned Army Ranger, was killed by friendly fire. Tillman had volunteered following 9/11. He was interviewed the day after those attacks.
PAT TILLMAN (Sept. 12, 2001): My great grandfather was at Pearl Harbor, and a lot of my family has gone and fought in wars. I really haven't done a damn thing as far as laying myself on the line. And so I have a great deal of respect for those that have and what the flag stands for.
JEFFREY BROWN: Two helicopter crashes exacted the heaviest tolls in the deadly year of 2005. In April, a Chinook went down in bad weather, 80 miles south of Kabul. Fifteen U.S. troops and three American civilian contractors died.
MAJOR CRAIG WILHELM, U.S. Army (April 15, 2005): We come together today to share the grief we all feel for the loss of 18 true heroes and perhaps in that sharing, to find the strength to bear our sorrow and the courage to look for the seeds of hope.
JEFFREY BROWN: In late June, 16 Americans were killed on a rescue mission when their helicopter was shot down in eastern Afghanistan. One was Army Major Steve Reisch, a pilot and standout baseball player at West Point. Eight of the others on the helicopter were Navy Seals. With three more Seals killed on the ground, it was the largest death toll in a single incident in the four-decade history of the elite special operations unit. In July they were remembered at a memorial service in Norfolk, Virginia.
REAR ADM. JOSEPH MAGUIRE (July 8, 2005): Those aviators, those soldiers and those Seals, went onboard that aircraft in broad daylight, understanding and knowing full well the risks involved.
JEFFREY BROWN: The final American death of 2005 came just last week on Dec. 28. First Sergeant Tobias C. Meister, a 30-year-old Oklahoma reservist was killed when his vehicle was hit by a remote-controlled roadside bomb. His death brought the total number of American dead in the Afghan fighting to 191.