US Combat Deaths Show Sharp Year-to-Year Decline in Iraq

By Kevin Mooney | July 7, 2008 | 8:32pm EDT

( - U.S. combat casualties in Iraq during the first 28 days of March are down almost 60 percent from where they were in the same 28-day period of 2007, and those casualties also have declined from where they stood in January, according to a Cybercast News Service analysis of U.S. Defense Department data.

Moreover, the number of combat deaths connected with the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) also has experienced a significant reduction, the analysis shows.

The Pentagon reported 25 combat casualties for the first 28 days in March, compared with 62 for the same period in 2007. The instances of IED-related casualties also are down sharply from where they were a year ago. There have been 11 such casualties reported so far in the current month versus 46 in the first 28 days of March last year.

Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, who previously served as the second in command of U.S. forces in Iraq, commented on the use of IEDs in response to a question from Cybercast News Service earlier this month, immediately following his lecture at the Heritage Foundation.

The instances of IED-related combat deaths have now reached their lowest levels since the beginning of 2004, he observed. The reductions have been particularly significant in Baghdad, where al Qaeda has been driven out and pushed into the northern part of the country, he said.

Although the use of IEDs has increased recently in Mosul, U.S. offensive operations were beginning to show results in this area as well, Odierno added. Mosul is the capital city of the Ninawa province.

A Cybercast News Service analysis shows the downward trend in U.S. casualty figures began in June of 2007 and accelerated in the final months of the year.

Between June and December of 2007, there were 305 combat-related casualties versus 423 in 2006. That represents a 30 percent decline in combat casualties from 2006 to 2007 for the same seven-month period.

The combat casualties reported last December were the lowest of any month since March 2006.

Combat deaths did spike somewhat in January as the U.S. launched offensive operations against al Qaeda strongholds in the northern part of the country.

Fred Kagan, a scholar with the conservative American Enterprise Institute and a chief architect of the surge strategy, told Cybercast News Service in a previous interview that he anticipates seeing the causality figures rise as U.S. forces pursue al Qaeda operatives in the Diyala, Ninawa, Kirkuk and Salahuddin Provinces.

Now that al Qaeda has been expelled from Baghdad and Anbar Province, the U.S. is in a stronger position to pursue "a defeated enemy" in other parts of Iraq, he explained.

There were 39 combat related deaths in January compared with just 14 in December of 2007. However, the Pentagon reports for February and March of this year show the casualty figures have settled down to the levels recorded toward the end of last year.

The U.S. military is now better equipped to employ counterinsurgency strategies as a result of military doctrines that have been forged in just the past few years, Pete Hegseth, an Iraqi war veteran who served 101st Airborne in 2005 and 2006, told Cybercast News Service in an interview.

"The year of 2007 will been seen as the year of counterinsurgency. It was the year Americans figured out Iraq and learned how to protect the population," he said. "We are more prepared now because we have a doctrine, that's how we train."

Looking back to 2005 any infantry platoon leader who wanted to train for counterinsurgency had to fall back on "dusty manuals from the 1980s" that were not applicable to the dynamics on the ground in Iraq, Hegseth explained.

Hegseth now serves as executive director of Vets for Freedom, a non-partisan organization of combat veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Vets for Freedom is currently touring the nation in an effort to focus public attention on the need for success in both conflicts.

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