This report (from USA Today via Air Force Times) is one of the most accurate we've seen in analyzing U.S. troop deaths in Iraq over the last month. In the article, reporter Jim Michaels nails the salient facts:
--Through yesterday, a total of 27 American military personnel had been killed in action in Iraq during the month of October. That's the lowest monthly total since March 2006. To its credit, the USA Today account is one of the few--outside of this blog--that differentiates between combat deaths, and those from non-hostile causes.
--The monthly decline is the fifth in a row--another trend that we've been highlighting. Other MSM have attempted to "shade" the good news in recent months, linking U.S. troop deaths to a decrease in Iraqi civilian casualties. Predictably, a sharp decline in civilian deaths didn't begin until the troop surge was well underway. By comparing trends in the two categories, various reporters still managed to find a "dark cloud" amid the sliver lining until civilian and military deaths began to drop dramatically.
--Mr. Michaels also links the drop in combat casualties to the troop surge, and notes the corresponding decrease in violence produced (in large part) by the new U.S. strategy. Numbers furnished by a senior U.S. commander in Iraq indicate that the number of attacks in Baghdad has dropped four-fold since January.
--Additionally, USA Today (apparently) resisted the temptation to dig up statistics that might cast a pall over signs of success. The Christian Science Monitor, for example, found that the number of U.S. troop deaths in Iraq in 2007 is actually ahead of the total for all of 2006. However, the source for that observation (former Pentagon official Larry Korb) didn't mention that 45% of those deaths occurred during April, May and June of this year, as the surge was moving into high gear.
If we can find any fault with the USA Today article, it's this: Mr. Michaels fails to note that the month of October included the last half of Ramadan, the Muslim holiday that (in the past) has produced a spike in both terrorist attacks and U.S. casualties. During the Islamic holy month in 2006, U.S. commanders reported a 22% jump in violence; this year, there was a significant decrease in the number of attacks and U.S. combat deaths, underscoring the progress that's been achieved on the ground.