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Iraq: U.S. Casualties Accelerate

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  • ummyakoub
    In Iraq, Pace of U.S. Casualties Has Accelerated By Vernon Loeb Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, December 28, 2003; Page A01
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 5, 2004
      In Iraq, Pace of U.S. Casualties Has Accelerated
      By Vernon Loeb

      Washington Post Staff Writer
      Sunday, December 28, 2003; Page A01


      The number of U.S. service members killed and wounded in Iraq has
      more than doubled in the past four months compared with the four
      months preceding them, according to Pentagon statistics.

      From Sept. 1 through Friday, 145 service members were killed in
      action in Iraq, compared with 65 from May 1 to Aug. 30. The two four-
      month intervals cover counterinsurgency operations, far costlier than
      major combat operations, which President Bush declared over on May 1.

      Increases in those wounded in action have been equally dramatic this
      fall. Since Sept. 1, 1,209 soldiers have received battlefield wounds,
      more than twice the 574 wounded in action from May 1 through Aug. 30.

      Nor have casualties tapered off since the capture of former Iraqi
      president Saddam Hussein on Dec. 13. Through Friday, 12 service
      members were killed in action and 105 were wounded with Hussein in

      After a summer in which U.S. military commanders believed they were
      about to turn a corner and see a significant decline in casualties,
      attacks on American forces increased dramatically in October and
      early November, prompting a U.S. counteroffensive that culminated in
      Hussein's capture near Tikrit.

      "The rate of casualties over the last four months is an indication
      that the insurgents are getting better organized," said retired Lt.
      Col. Andrew F. Krepinevich, director of the Center for Strategic and
      Budgetary Assessments, a Washington think tank. "The insurgents have
      been encouraged by the fact that they have had some success."

      But casualties are far from "mission-threatening," Krepinevich said,
      adding that the real key to success depends upon "the will of the
      American people to continue to accept this level of casualties,
      which -- by the way -- is far lower than anything we experienced in
      the Vietnam War."

      "It would take years at this casualty rate to arrive at the number
      killed in an hour at the World Trade Center," he added.

      Growing Impatience

      Nevertheless, Americans are clearly growing weary of casualties.
      Washington Post-ABC News polling data from late March, during major
      combat operations, showed that 58 percent of Americans interviewed
      said they thought the number of casualties in Iraq was acceptable,
      with 34 percent saying the number was unacceptable.

      The latest results, based on interviews conducted Dec. 18-21 with
      1,001 randomly selected adults nationwide, indicate that those
      percentages have flipped, with only 33 percent saying the number of
      casualties is acceptable and 64 percent saying it is unacceptable.

      Yet support for the war remained solid. Asked whether the war in Iraq
      was worth fighting, considering the costs and the benefits to the
      United States, 59 percent said it was.

      "Despite the myth that the American public is casualty-averse, the
      nation has traditionally accepted casualties if the public thinks
      that the cause is just and there is a definable end state," said
      retired Marine Col. Gary W. Anderson, a consultant to the Pentagon on
      Iraqi security issues.

      But support for the war could erode dramatically, defense analysts
      and public opinion experts said, if casualties continue at a
      relatively high rate next year and start to have the effect of
      undermining public confidence in the mission.

      A Coming 'Tipping Point'?

      Since the war began on March 19, a total of 470 service members have
      died in Iraq: 325 were killed in action, and 145 died in non-hostile
      circumstances involving accidents and suicides. The number killed in
      action in the war's counterinsurgency phase, 210, is nearly twice the
      115 battlefield fatalities during major combat operations.

      The number of soldiers wounded in action totaled 2,333, with an
      additional 370 injured in non-hostile circumstances. The total
      wounded in action in counterinsurgency operations, 1,783, is now more
      than three times the 550 wounded in action during major combat

      Peter D. Feaver, a professor of political science at Duke University
      and an expert on war and public opinion, said continued casualties
      could reach a "tipping point" at which the Bush administration loses
      the most important element in public support for the war: a belief
      that success is likely.

      Although Hussein's capture earlier this month helped bolster that
      belief, Feaver said, the steady "drip-drip-drip of casualties" and
      criticism of the war by Democratic candidates in next year's
      presidential election is likely to bring support for the war back
      down again.

      A single event that causes a large number of U.S. casualties, such as
      the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon, could push the
      public toward the tipping point, said retired Marine Lt. Col. Gary D.
      Solis, the Marine Corps' chief of oral history.

      "We've never been as casualty-averse as either the politicians said
      or the military thought," Solis said, speaking for himself, not the
      Marine Corps. "But that can change in an instant."

      Feaver said he is not surprised by the lack of public outcry thus far
      about casualties in Iraq. "The public has responded to the casualties
      in a way that is contrary to the conventional Beltway wisdom but
      perfectly in keeping with the academic scholarship on the issue," he
      said. "The Beltway wisdom is that public support collapses in the
      face of casualties, and by casualties I mean fatalities. But the
      academic research shows that public support is far more robust," as
      long as people feel the stakes are important and believe success is

      'Enemies of Freedom'

      Letters and e-mails coming into the 82nd Airborne Division's
      headquarters in Iraq suggest that "many Americans understand, in the
      wake of 9/11, that there is a very real enemy that will attempt to
      kill Americans at whatever cost wherever found," said Maj. Gen.
      Charles H. Swannack Jr., the division's commander. "These Americans
      also understand that these determined, unscrupulous enemies of
      freedom must be stopped in spite of the tragic cost."

      Eliot Cohen, a professor of national security studies at Johns
      Hopkins University, said that 3,173 service members "is, indeed, a
      lot of casualties." But the effect, he said, is being mitigated by a
      number of factors, including improved medical care and body armor,
      that are keeping far more troops alive, and an almost total ban on
      news coverage of the wounded as they return to the United States at
      Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington. While stories have been
      written and broadcast about individual casualties recuperating from
      wounds received in Iraq, there has been almost no coverage in the
      media of large aircraft arriving almost nightly at Andrews carrying
      war wounded from the battlefield. Similarly, media coverage of bodies
      arriving at the mortuary at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware has been

      Cohen also said that the "political impact of casualties" is very
      different now, with an all-volunteer military, than it was during the
      Vietnam War, when many of the 58,000 soldiers killed were draftees.

      "The families are more stoical, as are the troops themselves," Cohen

      But at the same time, a considerable number of casualties in Iraq
      have been from the Army Reserve and the National Guard, meaning that
      while they, too, volunteered to serve, they went to war directly from
      their homes in communities across America.

      "The deaths of Guardsmen and reservists is likely to start hitting
      home in the near future," said Larry Johnson, a former CIA and State
      Department analyst with ties to U.S. military's Special Forces. "The
      deaths of comrades hit them harder and have a more damaging effect on
      unit morale."

      © 2003 The Washington Post Company

      More on US casualties


      According to Global Security, a Washington based military think
      tank, `confirmed' US deaths since May 1 now stand at 287.

      Interestingly on the issue of casualties / battlefield ration, the
      report argues that as of 13 November 2003 a total of 7,714 ill and
      injured American troops had been evacuated from Iraq.

      (follow above link for details)

      Table of ratio, battlefield deaths, subsequent fatally wounded etc.
      (for other major conflicts):




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