TODAY   |  October 01, 2012

US death toll hits grim milestone in Afghanistan

A suicide bomber in Afghanistan kills at least 14 people, including 3 NATO service members, bringing the US death toll on the ground to 2,000 with 20 percent of American combat deaths stemming from insider attacks. NBC’s Richard Engel reports.

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>>> we want to begin with a special nbc news network wide series at the brink. we have two reports, beginning with nbc's chief foreign correspondent richard engel in kabul, afghanistan .

>> marines in southern afghanistan . they leap on buildings to shoot at the taliban hiding among the mud farmhouses. the taliban are testing marines, because there were 2,000 u.s. troops in this area last year. now there are only 200. the surge is over. and the taliban are trying to make a comeback. marine corpsman doc coughlin advances closer to the taliban positions.

>> once we got up there, we had a lot better vantage point.

>> reporter: then the battle is over. the taliban retreat. but why are u.s. forces still doing this after 11 years? and what has it accomplished? on a humanitarian level, for afghans, some improvement. 3 million girls are in school. the number of primary health care facilities has tripled. the average life expectancy for women is up a staggering 22 years. but this was never sold as a humanitarian mission. and the two main security goals toppling the taliban government and destroying al qaeda bases were both accomplished here a decade ago. and the cost, around $600 billion. $8 billion a month. and there are two more years to go. the afghan government of president hamid karzai washington helped put in place is widely considered one of the most corrupt in the world. the u.s. has helped train about 350,000 afghan security forces . the target number. but they're not always loyal. 20% of american combat deaths this year came from afghan forces shooting their american partners. many afghans fear, the government may not be able to hold the country together once u.s. troops leave in 2014 . there could be a civil war .

>> keep going a little bit more.

>> reporter: among u.s. forces , morale remains high. but some are annoyed the war has been ignored in the u.s. presidential campaign. all four of doc coughlin's brothers serve in the military. he's on his second tour in afghanistan . he knows americans aren't talking much about the troops anymore.

>> initially when the war kicked off, there was a lot of coverage and a lot of people interested. one way or another, they had very strong opinions. and because it's not new, it's fading like pop stars do.

>> reporter: fading as the war in afghanistan has drifted in a prolonged nation- building project that has produced a government that shows few signs of long-term stability. and we are learning more about that attack that killed three american soldiers today. military sources say the soldiers were on a foot patrol with afghan police in coast province when they were approached by a suicide bomber apparently from the taliban . he was also on foot when he detonated the explosive, killing the americans. also killing four afghan police . david?

>> richard engel in kabul for us this morning. richard, thank you very much.