As NATO shifted into new headquarters in recent weeks, part of the move involved a tombstone-like chunk of polished granite, a memorial to those who paid the ultimate price in service of the military alliance. But ask NATO officials who is among those fallen and the answer usually refers back to member nations. It becomes a more poignant question as Monday's US Memorial Day draws closer. The world's biggest military alliance, now with 29 member states, has no list of those who lost their lives on its watch. Neither in its billion-plus-euro premises in Brussels, nor at NATO's military headquarters in southern Belgium, according to officials and officers asked by the AP. In 2009, when the memorial was unveiled, NATO was in charge of combat operations against Taliban-led insurgents in Afghanistan—by far the biggest and most challenging enterprise in its 69-year history.
Then-NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer was keenly aware of the risks. He said the monument "will be a permanent reminder—not just that they gave their lives so that we could enjoy ours—but also of the consequences of the decisions that we take in this building." The numbers are hard to pin down, but according to the website icasualties, 521 foreign troops died in Afghanistan in 2009—the start of a four-year peak in Afghan conflict deaths. Most of them were American but many were British and Canadians. Not all were on NATO duty. NATO now has some 15,600 personnel in Afghanistan to train and advise officers in the national security forces.
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