US Combat Deaths Fall as Senate Republicans Force Debate

By Kevin Mooney | July 7, 2008 | 8:24pm EDT

( - U.S. combat casualties in Iraq have declined by almost 64 percent from where there were in the same 28-day period of February last year, according to a Cybercast News Service analysis of U.S. Defense Department figures.

The Pentagon reported 25 combat casualties in the current month so far, compared with 69 in the same period last year. The February casualty figure is up slightly from what was reported in November and December of last year, but it remains in line with an overall decline that first became evident last fall.

Year-to-year U.S. combat casualties started to decline in June 2007, the Cybercast News Service analysis shows. This downward trend continued to accelerate in the final months of 2007. The combat deaths reported in December were the lowest since the start of the war.

Although the casualty figures began to rise again in January, the monthly combat death total was still down about 30 percent from where it was in the previous year. Moreover, the numbers for February show the upward spike in January has already abated.

Fred Kagan, a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute and a chief architect of the surge strategy adopted by the Bush administration, told Cybercast News Service he expects to see fluctuations as the U.S. goes on the offensive in the northern part of Iraq, particularly in the Ninawa, Diayla and Salahuddin Provinces.

The highest concentrations of casualties in 2008 have occurred in these regions. Six soldiers died in combat on Jan. 9 in Sinsil, a city in the Diyala Province, as a result wounds suffered from an improvised explosive device (IED). Five soldiers died on Jan. 28 in Mosul, a city in the Ninawa Province, from an IED explosion.

The heaviest casualty day for U.S. forces recorded so far this month was Feb. 8, when four soldiers were killed after their vehicle hit an IED in Taji, a part of the Salahuddin Province.

With casualty figures remaining relatively low in comparison to where they were in 2006 and the first part of 2007, almost any combat incident involving multiple casualties can generate sharp percentage increases. This dynamic creates an opening for misleading coverage in the "mainstream media," Kagen warned.

For instance, a comparison of the casualty figures for first 28 days of Feb with this past December would show combat casualties have increased about 80 percent. A comparison between this past January and December would show an even larger statistical increase.

But these measurements would be misleading because they do not capture the reality of declining causality figures from where they were prior to when the surge strategy began to show results, Kagen argued.

Just like liberation day in Paris

The transformation that has taken place in Baghdad and the Anbar Province also is taking hold in other areas of country where al Qaeda once held sway, Kagen pointed out. There are about 70,000 "concerned local citizens" nationwide, including former insurgents, now fighting alongside U.S. troops, he said.

Earlier this month Kagen toured parts of Iraq that were once under siege but have now stabilized. The Dora section of Baghdad, for instance, was a "major war zone" when he last visited in May, Kagen said. He was told the situation had deteriorated to the point where Shia national police officers were shooting Sunni children and leaving them there to die, but not any more.

"There were children everywhere," he said. "All the little kids were running up to us, they wanted to shake our hands. They were grabbing onto the soldiers and grabbing their legs. It was like liberation day in Paris in 1945. The kids mobbed us."

Although Baghdad Province and the city will always be a "magnet for spectacular attacks," Kagen expects the strategic gains to continue. "I don't see a reversal of the current momentum in Baghdad," he said.

U.S. forces are now turning their attention to Mosul, the capital of the Ninawa Province, and the third largest city in Iraq where al Qaeda is attempting to reconstitute itself, Kagen explained. He also anticipates challenges in the Diyala Province but is encouraged by the overall trend.

"It [Diyala] is a major sectarian fault line," he said. "It is on the Iranian border and it's very close to Baghdad. But I think we are doing pretty well, and the momentum is in the right direction."

Some still seek U.S. withdrawal

Despite the progress, Kagen opposes reducing U.S. forces to below where they were prior to the troop surge for the remainder of 2008. However, Brian Katulis, a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress (CAP), told Cybercast News Service that the downward trends in violence may be "just a lull" in what remains a volatile situation. Katulis also said there were 2.2 million displaced persons in Iraq.

He favors a phased redeployment of U.S. forces with a specific end date in mind. This redeployment could be completed in a logistically reasonable way over a 12- to 18-month period, Katulis said.

Meanwhile, on the U.S. Senate floor, Republicans this week forced a debate on an Iraq troop withdrawal bill co-sponsored by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the majority leader.

"Democrats are pushing a pre-surge retreat strategy despite improved security and political progress," a Republican Senate aide told Cybercast News Service in an email. "General [David] Petraeus's adjusted approach to Iraq has been successful, yet Democrats in the Senate are again offering the same Feingold resolution they presented last May, before Petraeus's surge was fully operational. Now would be a good time for Senate Democrats to follow the lead of our American military and change their approach in Iraq."

Democrats pulled the bill Thursday evening. The debated has now shifted to a second measure from Feingold that would direct the president to set a global strategy for defeating Al Qaeda.

The second Feingold bill is just as odd," Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the minority leader said in a statement. "It would require the Bush administration, now in its final months, to set out a new global strategy for fighting terrorism -- even as our military fights the terrorists neighborhood by neighborhood in Iraq and even as Congressional Democrats continue to block a bipartisan surveillance bill that we know would improve our ability to disrupt terrorist plots."

"In other words, the second Feingold bill claims to advance an effective anti-terrorist program -- even though the first one attempts to block a counterinsurgency plan that even early critics of the war are calling a success. And it calls for a new strategy against al Qaeda even while Democrats in the House block one of the most effective tools we have in the fight against them," McConnell concluded.

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