By David Alexander and Phil Stewart
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than 4,600 Afghan troops have been killed in the war against the Taliban this year, a 6.5 percent jump over last year and an unsustainably high figure that underscores the need for better medical evacuation, a top U.S. general said on Wednesday.
Lieutenant General Joseph Anderson, a top commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, said 4,634 Afghan security personnel were killed in action this year, compared with 4,350 in 2013, despite a 25 percent dip in Taliban attacks from 24,000 to 18,000 over the same period.
Anderson, speaking to Pentagon reporters via video-conference, said the casualty figure was lower than expected given Afghan forces had taken over responsibility for leading the fight against the Taliban and engaged in a high level of activity. But he acknowledged the death toll was "not sustainable."
"They do need to decrease their casualty rate," he added, by improving protection against improvised explosives, boosting the quality of care at the point of injury and increasing their ability to carry out battlefield medical evacuation.
"All those things have to continue to improve ...," he added, "because those numbers are not sustainable in the long term."
Afghan National Security Forces took the lead role for security operations against the Taliban in the summer of 2013 and at the same time assumed most responsibility for battlefield medical treatment and evacuation.
"They're doing it now," Anderson said. "Eighty-eight percent of all medevac-casevac (medical and casualty evacuation) right now is done by the ANSF. That's not necessarily by air, though. That's a combination of air and ground."
He said U.S. and international forces provided only a "very limited" amount of medical evacuation support.
Anderson said Afghan security forces had carried out 940 total operations in 2014, their first full year in the lead role for security. He said that was four to five times more per week than last year, a "very, very significant" achievement.
"They are the most trusted government organization in Afghanistan," he said. "They are trying to provide time and space for this society to grow and reduce the insurgency."
Anderson said the drawdown of U.S. and coalition forces is continuing apace as they transition to an advise and assist role beginning next year. He said the coalition started the year with 86 bases and was down to 26, with the last one for the year to be closed next week.
Total coalition forces are due to fall to about 12,500, with 9,800 of those being U.S. troops.
As U.S. forces wind down their involvement in the country's longest war, they have shipped home, given to allies or destroyed 21,000 vehicles and 1.7 million pieces of equipment, Anderson said. About $620 million worth of gear has been given to partner countries.
He said the international force next year would focus on advising senior Afghan military and defense officials on issues like planning, budgeting, logistics and building institutions.
(Editing by Lisa Shumaker)