U.S. soldiers fire mortar rounds towards insurgent positions in Kunar province. (Tauseef Mustafa — AFP/Getty Images)

Seventeen troops were killed in Afghanistan in November, according to data maintained by The Washington Post. The last time the monthly death toll came in under 17 was in December 2009.

The final toll for last month could still edge upward — reports of deaths from the Defense Department are delayed until notification of kin — and November falls outside the traditional fighting season in Afghanistan. But the relatively low toll still appears to be a testament to officials’ claims of progress against insurgents, particularly in the south.

In November 2010, 53 troops were killed in the war, according to The Post data.

It is difficult to ascertain progress in the war by narrow metrics alone, and even if judged by the number of U.S. fatalities, 2011 is still on track to be the second deadliest year of the war, behind 2010. (The surge in U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan also accelerated in 2010.)

The relatively low toll for last month comes amid significant questions about whether gains against insurgents are sustainable, as well as questions about overall violence levels in the country.

Some data, including from the United Nations, show that there has actually been an increase in violent incidents. NATO disputes that finding, based on its own data.

The only other month this year when 20 or fewer U.S. troops were killed was in February. Among Americans, the highest death toll of the year came in August, when 71 U.S. troops were killed, including 30 who died in a Chinook helicopter crash.

Director of news research Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.