Bad News No Surprise To Some
Inevitably, the 'surge' takes a toll in American lives
The fourth anniversary of President Bush's "Mission Accomplished" declaration passed with a sobering count for April of 104 U.S. fatalities, the deadliest month so far this year for American troops in Iraq. What does this figure-up from roughly 80 a month earlier this year-say about how the war is going?
In a sense, not too much. In the past year, the monthly toll has fluctuated between a low of 43 last July and a high of 112 in December, but experts say a further factor makes it difficult to draw conclusions: Fatalities are only part of the picture. The number of killed in any one month can vary as a share of the total casualties (killed and wounded) "which makes it an even worse indicator of combat damage," says Anthony Cordesman, an expert on military affairs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Anticipated. What is clear, though, is that the April spike didn't come as a surprise to U.S. military officials. Since the Baghdad "surge" began, the Pentagon has been working hard to brace Americans for the higher death tolls expected to accompany a new mission for troops, namely an emphasis on providing security for Iraqi citizens in embattled neighborhoods. It's a shift from the previous plan to have "Iraqis in the lead"-an oft-repeated phrase that has faded considerably from the Baghdad lexicon.
That pretense is gone as more U.S. troops have streamed into the capital to take on the task of locking it down, setting up outposts in areas where ethnic cleansing by roving militias and al Qaeda elements have forced residents from their homes and fueled vicious tit-for-tat violence. That is urban warfare of a sort that the administration had previously sought to avoid, and it comes with risks. "I think it's a sad reality, but I think we anticipated that there would be, in some respects, an increase in the violence, and particularly in the belts around Baghdad, as we pushed the bad guys out," Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said last week.
Roughly half of the U.S. deaths occurred in Baghdad, the remainder in the volatile Anbar and Diyala provinces. Diyala has seen an increase in violence since the security plan got underway, much of which officials attribute to "squirters," or insurgents leaving Baghdad on the heels of the crackdown. Yet among marines in Anbar province, where some tribal leaders have turned against al Qaeda, fatalities are down: some 13 Marine deaths in April versus 29 in December.
This story appears in the May 14, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.