60 US troop deaths in June raise questions about strategy; Marine with Westbrook ties dies

Posted July 01, 2011, at 7:10 p.m.

WASHINGTON — June was the deadliest month in nearly a year for U.S. service members in Afghanistan and Iraq, as officials reported a Marine with ties to Maine died this week while serving in Afghanistan.

Marine Lance Cpl. Mark Goyet, whose maternal grandparents live in Westbrook, Maine, was killed in Helmand province, Afghanistan, on June 28,  U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said in a statement issued on Friday.

Goyet was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team-8, II Marine Expeditionary Force FWD, 1st Marine Division, based in Twentynine Palms, Calif.

Sixty U.S. service members were killed in the wars in June, from hostile and nonhostile incidents, according to officials. The last time the United States lost that many troops in a month was last July, when 65 American service members died in Afghanistan and four were killed in Iraq.

“We mourn the tragic loss of Corporal Goyet,” Snowe said in her statement, “and we are profoundly mindful of his steadfast courage and noble sacrifice as he heroically answered his country’s call to service. His bravery and dedication will never be forgotten. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends during this most difficult of times.”

Maine Gov. Paul LePage also expressed his condolences to Goyet’s family and friends.

“We will not forget his courage and dedication which he displayed fighting to the defense of our freedom,” LePage said. “His sacrifice will forever be remembered.”

LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said the governor’s office has learned that Goyet’s father, Navy Cmdr. Raymond Goyet, was born in Portland and that his mother, Martha Curran Goyet, is from Westbrook, where his maternal grandparents, Phil and Nancy Curran, reside.

A story published earlier this week in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, a Texas newspaper that covers Goyet’s hometown of Stinson, said Goyet was 22 when he died. His mother told the newspaper that Goyet had been shot several times in the chest and died before medics reached him.

Goyet had served one tour in Iraq as a mortar man and was assigned to a Navy ship based in Japan before volunteering in March to go to Afghanistan, according to the Caller-Times, which described Goyet as a high school football and basketball standout.

Officials, meanwhile, say that improved security in Afghanistan and Iraq is allowing the U.S. to reduce troops in those war zones.

The rise in troop casualties comes as Iraqi leaders are weighing whether to ask for some U.S. troops to stay beyond their scheduled departure at the end of the year. And it puts the administration of President Barack Obama in the uncomfortable position of addressing rising combat deaths nearly a year after declaring the end of U.S. “combat operations” in Iraq.

In Afghanistan, where Obama plans to bring home 33,000 “surge” troops by the end of next summer, nearly half the fatalities occurred in confrontations with the Taliban and other militant groups. The deaths raise questions about whether the U.S.-led coalition has made sustainable security gains in any part of the country as the Taliban appear to be attempting to retake ground lost during the American troop surge in the south, which began in 2009.

In Iraq, 14 U.S. service members were killed in combat in June — a three-year high, according to icasualties.org, which tracks those statistics — and there was one noncombat death.

Most of the attacks came from foes launching weapons from a distance, the deadliest of which was a rocket attack Wednesday on a military base a few hundred yards from the Iraq-Iran border in central Iraq’s Wasit province. The attack killed three American troops and wounded seven.

Among U.S. officials, there is debate over the reason for the spike. U.S. officials in Iraq said they suspected that Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim extremist groups were responsible for the deaths; indeed, all the combat deaths occurred in Shiite-dominated areas.

At the Pentagon, some military officials speculate that the attacks are by Iraqis who are trying to kill Americans before the troops are scheduled to leave at the end of the year. They think those Iraqis are seeking to gain credibility among militia groups by claiming to have killed Americans.

In Afghanistan, 37 U.S. troops were killed in combat in June, and eight died of noncombat injuries. Another 20 NATO troops also died.

Nearly half the troop deaths occurred in southern Afghanistan’s restive Helmand and Kandahar provinces, which are home to the Taliban and received the bulk of surge forces. In nearly half of those deaths, American troops were killed by small-arms fire, suggesting that the Taliban are still fighting for control of the region despite U.S. claims that they have been rooted out.

Military commanders said they had predicted a rise in troop casualties in Afghanistan with the start of the spring fighting season and the Taliban eager to regain areas they had controlled just months ago.

In a news briefing last month, Marine Corps Maj. Gen. John Toolan Jr., the commanding general of Regional Command Southwest, said that despite greater casualties, Afghan security forces would be ready to control key communities in southern Afghanistan.

Toolan said the coalition was planning to pass control of security in the capital of Helmand province, Lashkar Gah, later this month. The rest of the province will see Afghan forces take the lead beginning in January, he said.

Toolan said the summer would be deadly.

“We know that that’s going to be a pretty good battle for the next couple of months as we work our way in … providing security for the people who live there and strengthening their Afghan local police efforts,” Toolan said.

“We want to maintain that level of stability. And I’m pretty sure, pretty confident we’ll be able to do that, but it won’t be without a fight. But it will not be as big a fight, in my estimation, as it has been in the past.”

BDN reporter Dawn Gagnon, The Associated Press and McClatchy reporter Roy Gutman in Baghdad contributed to this story.

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