(CNSNews.com) - Deploying more U.S. troops in Iraq has resulted in a dramatic decline in the number of U.S. troops being killed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in that country.
IED-caused casualties have dropped 89 percent since the surge went full force last June, according to a Cybercast News Service database of Iraq casualties.
IED-caused casualties spiked in the early part of last year as the surge began. In January 2007, the U.S. started deploying an additional 30,000 troops to the country. The surge in forces was completed in mid-June.
On June 17, Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, told Fox News that the additional troops " are enabling us now to launch operations into sanctuaries, areas in which we have had very little coalition force presence other than raids in recent years."
"These are areas," Petraeus said, "where al Qaeda has established car bomb factories and other bases from which they have issued forth and then moved into Baghdad to attack targets, often indiscriminately."
The Cybercast News Service database shows that U.S. IED-caused casualties in Iraq peaked at 84 in May 2007, the month before the surge was completed.
In June 2007, as Petraeus launched his operations into al Qaeda sanctuaries, IED-caused casualties dropped to 71. In July 2007, they dropped to 36. By December, they were down to 8, the lowest number since August and September of 2003, the first year of the war.
U.S. IED-caused casualties spiked again in early 2008, rising to 23 in January. This was a byproduct of new offensive operations launched in the northern part of Iraq, Fred Kagan, a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute and an advocate of the surge strategy, has said.
However, overall U.S. casualty figures in Iraq have begun to fall off again, reaching their lowest levels in four years, and IED casualties have closely tracked this downward trend.
There were 37 U.S. IED-caused casualties in January 2007 compared to the 23 this January, a decline of about 38 percent.
There were 25 in February 2007 compared to 18 in February 2008, a decline of 28 percent. There were 54 in March 2007 compared to 20 in March 2008, a decline of nearly 63 percent.
Over the past several weeks, the decline in IED-caused casualties has been even steeper. There were 63 IED casualties reported last April versus 14 this April, a drop of 78 percent. And from May to May, casualties dropped from 84 to 9, a decline of almost 90 percent.
"The networks that build, finance and place IEDs have been disrupted, and more of the stockpiles are being uncovered before they can be used," said James Phillips, a Middle East expert with the Heritage Foundation. "There is also greater cooperation from the Iraqi civilians and better intelligence on the cells that plant IEDs."
The "Anbar Awakening" and the "shift in Sunni opinion" most certainly figure into the progress that has been in canceling out IED explosions that would otherwise lead to casualties, Phillips added.
Although the "strategic political calculations" various tribal groups have made over past several months have helped to reverse casualty figures, "huge unanswered questions remain" that could complicate long-term stability, Brian Katulis, a national security expert with the Center for American Progress (CAP), said in an interview.
The Bush administration has fallen back on an overly vague notion of success constructed around the idea of "bottom-up reconciliation," Katulis pointed out.
There are now "alterative centers of power," which are fostering a more complex political environment in 2008, he observed. For this reason, Katulis continued, it remains to be seen if the current lull in violence will hold over time.
With offensive operations now being concentrated in the northern part of the country in areas like Mosul, IEDs will continue to be reality on the battlefield, and there is always a danger strategic gains can be reversed, Jay Carafano, a senior research fellow specializing in defense and homeland security at the Heritage Foundation, said in an interview.
Even so, it is difficult to overstate the progress the U.S. military has achieved through changing its tactics in Iraq. While the political class and "armchair generals" fixated on the need for armor for Humvees, the military looked the problem differently and decided to pursue the bomb makers and the networks standing behind them, Carafano said.
This tactic is known as "getting to the left of the bang," he said.
"The last thing you want to try and do with an IED is to try and find it buried out on a roadway," Carafano noted. "You want to get as far away from that explosion, and as far back as possible to stop the bad guys.
"First, you want to find the organizers of the IED campaign, you want to get the logistics network that's delivering the IED; if you can't do that, then you go after the network that does the reconnaissance and plants the device in the road," he stated.
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