The platoon sergeant was inspecting the gaping crater left by a roadside bomb in northern Afghanistan when a second thunderous blast went off just 20 feet away.
A choking dust cloud enveloped him. He had no feeling in his left leg. When the soldiers who rushed to his rescue shouted questions at him, he couldn’t hear them.
“I’m lucky to be alive,” he said Saturday, two days after the explosion. Requesting that his name and hometown not be mentioned to protect his family’s privacy, he spoke at the military hospital where he was being closely monitored for signs of traumatic brain injury.
For American troops, July was the deadliest month of the nearly 9-year-old war in Afghanistan. At least 66 U.S. service members were killed, surpassing what had been a record 60 American fatalities in the previous month.
The means of death were as varied as the hazards of war: helicopter crashes, firefights, ambushes, sniper fire and, especially, the kind of homemade bombs that nearly claimed the 32-year-old sergeant.
But the pattern of combat deaths in July pointed up an overarching truth that is likely to endure as the conflict grinds onward: More and more each day, this is an American war.
With their numbers approaching 100,000 as a consequence of the troop buildup ordered by President Obama in December, U.S. troops now comprise about two-thirds of the NATO force in Afghanistan. And American deaths are commensurate with that dominance, accounting for more than two-thirds of Western military fatalities in July, according to figures provided by icasualties.com, an independent website.