U.S. military in Afghanistan will delay casualty reports

KABUL (Reuters) - The American military in Afghanistan says it will delay announcing troop casualties until after next of kin have been notified, potentially leaving casualties unreported for days.

U.S. Army General John Nicholson, Commander of Resolute Support forces and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, arrives for a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan April 14, 2017. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

The change in policy was instituted by General John Nicholson, the senior U.S. commander in Kabul, over fears that families could be left guessing for days after casualties were announced but not identified and before families could be notified, said military spokesman Captain Bill Salvin.

“It’s a balance we’re trying to strike between trying to provide all the support we can to families, while also informing the public,” he told Reuters.

Previously, the U.S. military command in Kabul issued a initial announcement only stating that a soldier had been killed, often including a general location within Afghanistan, but not identifying him.

Once the soldier’s family or next of kin had been notified, the Pentagon would release more details, including names and home units.

The change in policy was revealed this week when U.S. Army Private First Class Hansen Kirkpatrick was killed in Afghanistan’s Helmand province on Monday, but officials did not announce that a soldier had been killed until Wednesday, when his death and identity was released.

A Pentagon spokesman confirmed that the policy only applied to Nicholson’s command, leaving other war zones like Iraq or Syria guided by the usual U.S. reporting requirements.

Military spokesmen in Afghanistan would continue to release casualty reports, albeit on a more delayed schedule, Salvin said.

“There might be a bit longer period before we report it,” he said.

About 13,000 U.S. and allied troops in a NATO-led force are deployed in Afghanistan to train and advise the security forces fighting Taliban insurgents. More than 3,500 of the coalition troops have been killed since the fighting began in late 2001.

Several thousand additional American forces operate in a separate counter-terrorism mission in the country. Kirkpatrick was part of that mission.

Salvin said the U.S. military would still respond to public reports of casualties, as occasionally happens when Afghan officials report casualties among foreign troops.

Reporting by Josh Smith. Additional reporting by Phil Stewart in Washington.; Editing by Robert Birsel