Turnaround in US Combat Casualties Began in June, Analysis Shows

By Kevin Mooney | July 7, 2008 | 8:23 PM EDT


(CNSNews.com) - As has been widely reported, U.S. combat-related casualties in Iraq in 2007 were greater than in 2006, but they peaked in May 2007, just before the troop surge was completed and began a decline in June that continued through the end of the year.

By August, combat-related casualties were occurring at a lower rate, compared on a month-to-month basis, than in 2006. In December, there were 14 U.S. combat-related casualties, the fewest of any month in the last two years.

Between August and December of 2007, there were 163 combat casualties. By comparison, there were 339 combat casualties in the same five-month period for 2006. This represents a decline of almost 52 percent, according to an analysis of the data by Cybercast News Service.

There have been 409 combat-related deaths reported between May, when the casualty rate climaxed, and the end of 2007. This represents a drop of almost 14 percent since the same period last year.

2006 and 2007 combat casualties

The influx of 30,000 additional troops into Iraq began in late January 2007 but was not fully in place until June. An initial spike in combat casualties that peaked in May - at a time when offensive operations were launched against al Qaeda strongholds - was followed by a steep decline.

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

A full year comparison of combat casualties shows a slight increase of about 7 percent from 2006 to 2007, according to the Cybercast News Service analysis. Some political figures in the U.S. have cited the overall casualty rate in 2007 as evidence for continued failure.

For example, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), in a previous interview with Cybercast News Service, was unmoved by data that showed U.S. casualties were beginning to decline.

However, troop surge proponents such as Fred Kagan, a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), argue that 2007 saw remarkable military achievements that are evident in the trend lines that show up toward the end of the year.Total Combat Deaths in Iraq 2006-2007

Kagan was one of the primary architects of the surge strategy. He told Cybercast News Service in an interview that U.S. military progress has actually outpaced his own expectations. The uprising of the Sunni community against al Qaeda was an added benefit the original plan did not take into account, said Kagan.

But the temporary rise in causality figures most evident in the summer months of 2007 did not come as a surprise and was anticipated from the outset, he said.

"We had to send our troops into areas the enemy owned, and whenever you do that you take more casualties," Kagan said.

"Once we took these areas out, the casualties dropped to well below what they were before the surge, because the enemy has no bases to operate from. Our point was you can either have a constant drumbeat of casualties getting us nowhere as we did toward the end of 2006, or you could have more intense operations that lead to a few months of higher casualties that bring you down to a much lower level," he added.

Although the casualty trends are cause for encouragement, Kagan told Cybercast News Service he would not be surprised to see the casualty rate increase somewhat from where they have been recently as U.S. forces turn their attention to remaining al Qaeda strongholds in the Diyala and Ninawa provinces.

"Anytime you kick off a core offensive against al Qaeda where they are dug in, you always have to expect the casualties will go up some," he said.

The latest Pentagon figures show U.S. casualties are already up in the first weeks of January from where they were in December. There have been 19 combat casualties reported thus far in contrast to the 14 in December.

Al Qaeda operatives "had owned" Baqubah, the capital of Diyala, until they were cleared out as part of the surge, Kagan said. Prior to the surge, Baqubah was used as a platform for launching attacks into Baghdad, he explained.

After being displaced from Baqubah, al Qaeda operatives retreated to the northern part of Diyala where U.S. forces are now concentrating their efforts, Kagan pointed out.

"What we are really doing is pursuing a defeated enemy," he said. "Al Qaeda does not want to operate in these areas. Instead it wants to operate in Baghdad and Anbar, but we are denying them. So now when they try to get themselves safe we keep chasing them.

"The time to worry is when we aren't talking causalities because it means we are letting them dig in somewhere so they can reconstitute their network," Kagan added.

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