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Troop combat deaths down significantly
Posted by: McQ on Monday, September 03, 2007

The title to the piece is "Combat deaths in Iraq decline; reasons aren't clear":
American combat deaths in Iraq have dropped by half in the three months since the buildup of 28,000 additional U.S. troops reached full strength, surprising analysts and dividing them as to why.

U.S. officials had predicted that the increase would lead to higher American casualties as the troops "took the fight to the enemy." But that hasn't happened, even though U.S. forces have launched major offensives involving thousands of troops north and south of Baghdad.

American combat casualties have dropped to their lowest levels this year, even as violence involving Iraqis remains high.

Military officials and observers are wondering whether the lower U.S. casualties are a sign of success or an indication that insurgents and militiamen simply chose a different battlefield when the Americans mounted their offensive in Iraq's capital.

"Nobody here is doing cartwheels yet," said one senior military official at the Pentagon, who requested anonymity in order to speak freely.
So why are deaths down? Well one reason is called "planning". The other is "experience". Michael Yon gave us a clue a month or so ago:
When I wrote the dispatch “Be Not Afraid,” I thought at least dozens of soldiers might be killed when we attacked on 19 June, and that hundreds might be wounded. After years of experience, the terrorists had prepared Baqubah to an extent greater than either Fallujah or Ramadi had been. During one of the briefings Saturday, General Petraeus mentioned that Baqubah was probably the most rigged city of the entire war. Another officer at the briefing said there is so much explosives residue in Baqubah that the bomb dogs get confused.

Since the beginning of Arrowhead Ripper—with the loss of one 3-2 SBCT soldier killed in action—troops found more than 130 bombs planted in ambush, about two dozen buildings rigged to explode, and more than half a dozen car bombs. (That’s only the beginning.) Yet street by street, house by house, step by step, the infantry soldiers cleared most of Baqubah, working under intensely stressful conditions. They cleared block by block, no place to sleep but the ground, no showers to wash away the sweaty grit of war. This combat-experienced brigade outsmarted the enemy. I’d like to say more, but the enemy will get no help from these pages.
Secondly there are intelligence gains as MG Rick Lynch [pdf] told us:
Yeah, great question — you know, we say intelligence drives everything. You know, for a period of time, we were relying on sophisticated intelligence. We were relying on signals intelligence; we were relying on, you know, intelligence from satellites, those kinds of things. But what wins the fight here is human intelligence.

So what we've found is now that we're out there, as we conduct these operations, for the one we just did in Arab Jabour, which is southeast of Baghdad, as we fought our way through the area, as we came to a village, the questions from the villagers was twofold.

The first question was, "Are you going to stay?" And then the second question was, if the answer to the first one was yes, "Now how can we help?" And one of the ways that they're helping us is providing us intelligence. I can't tell you the numbers of weapons caches, IEDs, bad guys that we've taken off the street based on locals saying, "Here it is." Now, people argue and say, "Well, those folks are probably the ones who planted the IEDs yesterday." It doesn't matter. They're telling us where they are before they blow up our soldiers. So we have exponentially increased our intelligence from local sources since we started this concerned citizen program and lived out there amongst them.
The obvious difference is we're clearing and "holding". And that holding is having a significant and building effect, not only on Iraqis but on the morale of our own troops. Ralph Peters, talking to some Marines in Fallujah:
You'd expect complaints. I didn't hear one. And talking to three Jersey boys, I was surprised to hear just how positive they felt about the mission.

"I'd do it again in a heartbeat," Lance Cpl. Justin Blitzstein of West Milford told me. Self-assured and ready for anything, he added, "Anybody who doesn't think we should be here should see the difference we've made in the way these people live. And everybody here's a volunteer. We want to be here."

Lance Cpl. Jason Hetherington of Cape May County leapt in, "The progress from us being here [in the police precinct] less than six months is unbelievable. People who don't think we're making a difference should just see what we do."

A thoughtful man, Hetherington paused to choose his next words. "We were surprised that it wasn't a combat situation in Fallujah anymore. It's rewarding to see the kids out in the streets and the shops open."

Blitzstein nodded. "We were amazed at how easy it was when we moved in. We were the first Marines thrown into the meat grinder, right in the middle of Fallujah, but it worked out. It was good planning on somebody's part."
See that last sentence? When you see that Lance Cpl's have bought into the strategy and can see results, morale is going to be excellent. And that seems to be the case for these Marines. Just another indicator as to why US battle casualties have dropped.

Oh ... and success. Yes, we've been successful militarily in building momentum and an op tempo that has left the insurgents and terrorists off balance and confused as well as degraded in their abilities to mount operation and regenerate their leadership (which has been decimated). And, I think, a tremendous part of this building momentum is a heartfelt yearning by the average Iraqi to end the violence and see peace return to their lives. They seem to have chosen Coalition Forces and the Iraqi government, for the most part, to be the vehicle of satisfying that yearning.

So while I thought that we'd see increased casualties because that's the nature of offensive operations, it seems the combination of careful planning, excellent execution, experience, Iraqi cooperation and exponentially increased human intelligence have all combined to keep our casualties very low despite the fact that we're on the offense.
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Previous Comments to this Post 


It’s better than this. Check out There hasn’t been a single troop death since August 30, when we’ve been clipping along at a 2-3 death-per-day rate. 55 civilian deaths this month, which puts us on pace for a 550 death month, which is high, but well below the recent average.

There’s an eerie calm setting across Iraq right now. It’s almost disconcerting.
Written By: Sean
According to Iraq Coalition Casualties (cited above), the August casualties rates have been

August 2003 35
August 2004 66
August 2005 85
August 2006 65
August 2007 81

That looks like an oscillation to me. A little too early for rejoicing.
Written By: Dave Schuler
Mr. Emgraham has some additional comments on the casualty numbers. Mr. Engram has the most comprehensive analysis of casualties in Iraq that I’ve seen anywhere.

His take on it is that basically since the sunni insurgency has decided to join with us to defeat Al Queda, then that’s the main reason for the decrease in American Casualties. Al Queda instead is ratcheting up civilian casualties in an effort to effect the Democrat Party in september. Hence their latest horror against the primitive tribes. Al Queda typically has a strategic goal when they suicide bomb. It has been to incite civil-war, but they are not able to do that successfully since the surge. So they are ratcheting up the body count instead to try and effect the political debate in the US.

There also must be a reduction in shia (read Sadr-led) confrontations. Some of this is bound to be because of the decrease in sunni in the capital and less militia action. Iraqis will have to deal with this cleansing.
Written By: dude
URL: http://
Actually, combat deaths were the lowest for an August since 2003 (a much more relevant measure for anti-US insurgent activity). But agreed that its too early to celebrate too much.
Written By: Sean
His take on it is that basically since the sunni insurgency has decided to join with us to defeat Al Queda, then that’s the main reason for the decrease in American Casualties.
That’s one reason and goes to the point I made about the basic Iraqi yearning for peace and their decision to pitch their lot in with the CF. But when dealing with AQ, there’s a lot of good planning (the clear and hold strategy) and experience coming into play as well. And as MG Lynch says, intelligence drives everything, and the exponential increase in human intelligence since they’ve begun the clear and hold strategy has been instrumental in dampening the violence against our troops as well. When you are taking 3 to 4 times the weapons and explosives caches you were previously, that’s 3 to 4 times fewer that can be used against your guys.
Written By: McQ
I must be reading a different iCasualties web site. Those are not the numbers I see:
Written By: Robert Stein
Nothing like good results to improve morale. When you have a goal which could make a difference and meet it, satisfaction follows.

It always has, and it always will.
Written By: vnjagvet
R. Stein,

There’s a reason I italicized "combat" deaths.
Written By: Sean
We’ve been told forever, that the economy was going to be total trash. And of course it was all W’s fault. Of course, we see exactly the opposite happening. The economy has never been in better shape. This, in spite of all of the "expert" predictions about what was going to happen with an economy.

Notice in the link to article, that the experts are surprised that the death rate in Iraq is down. And they are equally surprised that we are having the success that we are. And there is something of a theme, developing here; Mr. Bush consistently outperforms the experts.

At some point, someone’s going to have to admit that the supposedly experts don’t know what the hell they’re talking about, and that Mr. Bush knows precisely what he’s doing.

Nah... They’d never do that ; the left wouldn’t have a leg to stand on at that point.

Written By: Bithead
Frankly, the number I look to first is Iraqi deaths. That’s the number that matters in terms of whether or not Iraq will stabilize. Last month it was over 1800, which is quite high. And most of those deaths are of innocents and civilians — soldiers (and insurgents) have volunteered to fight and thus they have consciously accepted the possibility of death. Innocents have not, and their deaths are thus more tragic (which is a cornerstone of just war theory and the ethics of war — protection of innocents.) So great that combat deaths have gone down compared to earlier this year, but my focus is on Iraqi deaths, especially civilian.
Written By: Scott Erb
but my focus is on Iraqi deaths
Well, except when US military deaths went up. Then you thought it was important.
Written By: JWG
URL: http://
I’ve been searching for objective metrics on how to determine how the war is going. It’s surprisingly tough.

I’m surprised it took me this long, but I think I finally have one: Check to see who’s accusing who of moving the goalposts. Seems like all sides move the goal posts pretty freely. (Individuals can be ethical and refuse to do so, but that is beyond a group’s ability, especially a group based on agreement with a particular partisan position. Even if you could imagine everybody in such a group suddenly changing their mind, the vacuum would likely be filled quickly. Thus, a group identified by partisan position can not change its mind, only grow or shrink.) Which ever side is furiously moving the goalposts is losing.

Left as an exercise for the reader to translate that to the current situation.
Written By: Jeremy Bowers
I wonder if the raw number of civilian deaths is a good metric as suicide bombs are volatile in their results. In August there was the Yazidi bombing that killed 572. I would consider that an outlier in that it was done against a pretty soft target and that so many died. And just as some are saying the enemy is simply waiting us out, a bad month or two also could be the result of ramped up "Tet" style activities before the September report..
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
JWG: No, my focus is consistently on Iraqi deaths first. If you think that’s wrong, post evidence to the contrary.

Harun: You are right that "big events" can skew the data.
Written By: Scott Erb
Before we do that,perhaps should be so good is to tell us how it is that you are able to determine who is merely a civilian, and who is an insurgent?

Written By: Bithead
No, my focus is consistently on Iraqi deaths first.
Erb’s own words betray him once again:
Since every reputible media source is reporting May as the deadliest month for GIs since 2004, and Iraqi deaths are staggeringly high with reports of no let up in the violence (13 GIs killed, 169 Iraqis yesterday), while Republicans openly talk about changing course in September and rumors are that the Bush Administration also is talking about a withdrawal in 2008, McQ, unwilling to consider that he might be wrong, finds a blog that supports his position. Oh joy! Let’s just forget all the facts, let’s just ignore the news, let’s just ignore the cost to American lives, Iraqi lives, the overstretched military, massive opposition to the war at home. Study groups note Iraq is on the verge of collapse, and now reports that the surge is not only failing, but making things worse.
You remark on the deaths of Americans FIRST (twice) before mentioning Iraqi deaths when the American deaths are at their highest.

It looks like Erb finds American deaths more significant when they can score him political points.
Written By: JWG
URL: http://
75% reduction in Baghdad is nothing to sneeze at...,25197,22337285-31477,00.html
General Petraeus told The Australian during a face-to-face interview at his Baghdad headquarters there had been a 75 per cent reduction in religious and ethnic killings in the capital between December last year and this month, a doubling in the seizure of insurgents’ weapons caches between January and August, a rise in the number of al-Qa’ida "kills and captures" and a fall in the number of coalition deaths from roadside bombings.

"We say we have achieved progress, and we are obviously going to do everything we can to build on that progress and we believe al-Qa’ida is off
balance at the very least," he said.
Thomas Barnett has this to say about Petraeus’ upcoming report to Congress.
I expect Petraeus’ report to contain just enough good news to blunt any such intense Congressional intervention—save rhetorically for the cameras. I believe that report will reflect reality in a reasonably accurate manner: you concentrate troops plus start cutting deals with locals and things will improve. I think it’s a shame we didn’t have this strategy in 2003, but this administration has to live with that legacy.
Written By: Keith_Indy
LOL! JWG, you are hilarious. You are afraid to discuss real issues of substance, so you try gotcha games. Yet your effort to do so is so forced and silly that it’s funny.

Because I put American lives first in a sentence, directly followed by Iraqi lives, you say that supports your claim that I put Iraqi deaths first except when American deaths are going up. In other words, you’re asserting that I’m talking about word order, not ethical importance. OK, in word order I did list the American lives first, but I made clear the importance and cost in Iraqi lives becaue to me that is the most important moral and ethical cost of this war. It is a greater tragedy when an Iraqi innocent dies than an American soldier.
Written By: Scott Erb
"Innocents have not, and their deaths are thus more tragic"

This agrees with my calculations; civilian deaths are 73% (+ or - 5%) more tragic than military deaths.
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
but I made clear the importance and cost in Iraqi lives
Yes, you have done so consistently.

But the claim you made in this thread was incorrect (which you also do consistently) so I corrected it.

When Americans deaths can make a point to support your views, you trump their significance. When their deaths don’t support your views, you dismiss their significance.

The evidence is in your own words, contrary to what you want to claim today.
You are afraid to discuss real issues of substance
Again, your own words betray you. This thread is about US deaths declining. You obviously don’t view that as a "real issue of substance" unless their deaths increase.

Those are your words.
Written By: JWG
URL: http://
It is a greater tragedy when an Iraqi innocent dies than an American soldier.
How do you know they are innocent? Innocent of what?

And what is the American solder not innocent of?
Written By: Don
URL: http://
It is a greater tragedy when an Iraqi innocent dies than an American soldier.

How do you know they are innocent?
What you said is as if I said "I prefer Pepperoni pizza to mushroom pizza," and you said "how do you know it’s a pepperoni pizza?"

And what is the American solder not innocent of?
The ethics of war, and just war theory, states essentially that combattants have chosen a role that accepts that they are putting their lives on the line. Innocents have not, and it’s an ethical duty to protect innocents, even at the cost of combattant lives. Any Iraqis who are insurgents or terrorists are combattants, and since they often target innocents, they are engaged in heinous acts.
Written By: Scott Erb
The military success combined with lower casualties will buy precious time for the political necessities to be realized. I am not confident that Iraq in its present form can be stabilized politically in the foreseeable future, but being that we are there, and our troops want to be there, there is no reason not to take this odds off bet.

We do have another problem however, that being the "retain" element of the "clear, hold, and retain" strategy.

We do not have, nor can we commit, the troops necessary to retain the areas that we have cleared and held. The Iraqi forces must take this responsibility and succeed. Failing that, even if there are political advances, they will be short lived as areas fall back into chaos and violence.

Simply put, we are, finally and far too long in coming, winning militarily in a war that cannot be won militarily, but at least, for the first time since this mess began, there is a chance.

I am least pleased that if this does fail, because of the military success, no one should blame the military for failure. From now on, if this effort fails, responsibility will belong squarely where it belongs, the civilian political decision makers that prosecuted this plan.

Written By: Captin Sarcastic
URL: http://
"Innocents have not, and it’s an ethical duty to protect innocents..."

Do you perhaps mean non-combatants, or civilians?
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
How do you know they are innocent? Innocent of what?
Well, counting combatant/non-combatant deaths in an insurgency is a tricky business.

Guy shows up at a hospital with a gun shot wound.

Who’s to say whether he was a combatant or non-combatant?

Was it the result of a shootout between insurgents and American or Iraqi forces, was it insurgents shooting him for some reason, or was it a regular crime?

He is not in a uniform, because the insurgents don’t wear uniforms.

He could have been in the thick of fighting, and his buddies who brought him to the hospital left their weapons in the car.

Or he could truly have been just someone passing by, or sitting in their house, minding their own business.

Or he could have been shot while breaking into someones home.

So, the actual number of non-combatant deaths is an unknown.
Written By: Keith_Indy
Whether or not public opinion on the war itself budges, one thing should never budge: Our ongoing support for the troops. That’s my opinion. I usually express my opinions in the form of musically-enhanced comments. I call it Blog n Roll. On this particular issue, I say...

Let’s end the war, but let’s...

End the War (By Winning It)!
Dr BLT (c) 2007

I say that it’s not time to bring the troops...

Dr BLT & The Coalition of the Willing
Dr BLT (c) 2007

Written By: Dr BLT

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