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Volume 3, Number 30 August 31 - September 6, 2003 Quezon City, Philippines
Toll Shows U.S. Challenges
to Alternative Reader Index
With the death today
of another U.S. soldier in an ambush in Iraq, the number of U.S. troops who have
died there since May 1, when President Bush declared an end to major combat
operations, rose to 139 -- surpassing the number of those who perished during
the six weeks of fighting that marked the fall of Baghdad and its immediate
aftermath, according to Pentagon records.
The figure of 139
includes not only those killed by enemy fire -- called "hostile"
deaths by the Pentagon -- but also those who died as a result of vehicle
accidents, drowning, medical problems or other factors unrelated to combat. A
casualty yesterday, for instance, involved an unidentified soldier from the
Army's 130th Engineer Brigade who suffered a "non-hostile gunshot
wound" -- a phrase that can mean suicide or the accidental discharge of a
Although the 63
deaths from hostilities since May 1 remain well below the 115 that occurred in
March and April, the combat death rate has been averaging one soldier about
every other day since Bush flew to the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and announced
that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended." If that trend
continues through the end of the year, those killed in action after May 1 will
outnumber those killed in action before then.
event represented a largely symbolic moment in the grinding Iraqi conflict. But
by highlighting the steadily mounting U.S. death toll, it underscored the
political challenge for the Bush administration in sustaining a reconstruction
effort that is clearly costing more U.S. lives than winning the war did.
Instead of facing
gradually diminishing resistance, which the administration had expected to find
after ousting Saddam Hussein's government, U.S. troops have encountered
increasingly organized and violent opposition from Hussein loyalists and foreign
Islamic militants who U.S. authorities say are flowing into Iraq. The nature of
the combat also has shifted, from largely conventional warfare waged by a
uniformed Iraqi force to guerrilla-style attacks and terrorist tactics employed
by shadowy resistance groups and teams of hit-and-run fighters.
"The loss of
every service member is deeply felt, and their courage and sacrifice will not be
forgotten," said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman, asked to comment on the
casualty count. "Creating a stable and secure environment for the Iraqi
people is important to the national interests of the U.S. and the international
community. Our losses only strengthen the resolve of the coalition to accomplish
their vital mission."
Command, which oversees military operations in the Persian Gulf region, has
provided little information about the reported deaths. Official announcements
have tended to consist of no more than a few sentences citing the general cause
of a death and offering a cursory description of the circumstances involved.
announcements over time have revealed some telling trends, particularly when
compared with casualty patterns before May 1.
During the invasion
and immediate aftermath, many of the U.S. combat deaths resulted from military
ambushes, artillery fire and helicopter crashes. Since then, most soldiers have
died from attacks involving rocket-propelled grenades, small-arms fire and what
the military calls "improvised explosive devices," or homemade bombs
-- all reflecting the less conventional character of the fighting.
difference is where U.S. soldiers are dying. During the war, the bulk of the
deaths took place south of Baghdad as U.S. troops surged from Kuwait toward the
Iraqi capital. In recent months, just over half of U.S. casualties from hostile
action have occurred in Baghdad, and an additional quarter have come in the
"Sunni triangle" bounded by Baghdad and the towns of Ar Ramadi and
Tikrit, where some of the fiercest resistance to the U.S.-led reconstruction
effort has been concentrated.
During the war, too,
many deaths occurred in clusters and resulted from major individual events -- an
ambush in Nasiriyah by Iraqi soldiers who pretended to surrender, for instance,
or an attack on Army vehicles that became separated from a supply convoy. But in
recent months, death reports have trickled into U.S. military headquarters in
ones and twos.
On a few days, as
many as three U.S. soldiers have been killed. The worst day for U.S. deaths from
hostile fire was July 26, when a grenade thrown from the window of an Iraqi
hospital took the lives of three soldiers and a fourth soldier died when his
convoy came under rocket-propelled grenade attack.
For the most part,
there have been few pauses in the mounting death tally. The longest period in
which no combat deaths were reported was the 12-day span that began May 14.
During the first six
weeks of fighting, each branch of service lost members, although the Army and
Marines lost the most. Since May 1, the Army has suffered nearly all the deaths
from hostile action. The Navy and the Air Force each have lost one member as a
result of hostile fire. The Marine Corps has not reported any combat deaths,
although 17 Marines have died in Iraq since May 1 from non-hostile causes.
A sizable number of
the Army's deaths from hostilities have involved reservists called up for
wartime duty, including eight members of the National Guard and five members of
the Army Reserves.
The majority of
soldiers killed since May 1 have been lower-ranking enlisted members. But four
officers have died from hostile fire, and so have 24 noncommissioned officers.
And although more than half of the dead troops were under 30 years old, 15 were
in their thirties, one was 40 and another was 54.
No female soldiers
have died from hostile fire since May 1. And no deaths in the past four months
have resulted from mistaken fire by U.S. or allied troops.
Of the deaths
categorized as non-hostile, at least 22 involved vehicle accidents, a common
hazard reflecting the dangers of large-scale military operations. As many as
four deaths resulted from the accidental detonation of munitions in areas where
soldiers were working.
problems accounted for several deaths. One soldier was described as dying
"after collapsing while eating dinner" July 8. In three separate
instances -- on Aug. 8, 9 and 12 -- soldiers were found dead when others tried
to wake them and discovered they were not breathing.
August 26, 2003
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