By my calendar, today is only the 24th of October, but the Associated Press is already trumpeting the continued decrease of U.S. casualties in Iraq. In a story published yesterday, AP writer Steven Hurst in Baghdad noted that October "is on course to record the second consecutive decline in U.S. military and Iraqi civilian deaths. American commanders quoted in the story attribute the drop (in part) to the growing Iraqi groundswell against Al Qaida and Shiite terrorists.
As readers of this blog know, we've been tracking the decline in U.S. military casualties for some time, and it's encouraging to see the AP discover that trend. Unfortunately, the wire service only reports part of the story. By lumping together American military deaths and Iraqi civilian casualties, the AP can report (correctly) that October will be the second month when totals in both categories have dropped.
But that misses the larger point. Fact is, American military deaths in Iraq have been decreasing for the past six months, a period that coincides with our troop surge. In other words, the number of U.S. troops killed in action has declined sharply since May, despite a corresponding increase in our operations tempo. In military terms, that is nothing short of remarkable, a testament to both General Petraeus and his staff--the architects of the surge--as well as the battalion, company and platoon-level commanders and NCOs who have implemented the strategy.
Once again, here are the combat death totals for U.S. forces in Iraq since April. Our breakout includes personnel killed by hostile fire and those who died in non-hostile incidents:
Month/Total Fatalities/Hostile Fire/Non-Hostile
Oct/30/20/10 (Through 24 October)
We've also been tracking the corresponding decline in U.S. deaths from IED attacks.
Month/Total Hostile Fire Fatalities/Number Killed by IED
Oct/20/14 (Through 24 October)
While we grieve for all those who have lost loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan, the continuing drop in combat deaths demonstrates that their sacrifice was not in vain. But, as Michael Yon noted in his recent, terrific dispatch from Baghdad, you would be hard-pressed to find Americans who actually understand the sea-change that is taking place in Iraq. The battle for that country has not yet been won, but the progress that has occurred over the last six months is undeniable.
Still, impressing that fact on the American people remains problematic, thanks largely for the long-established media template for coverage of the Iraq conflict. While Mr. Hurst's AP report on the drop in casualties is certainly welcome, it was easy enough to recognize the caveats used to temper the good news.
On a more positive note, Mr. Yon is working a deal with the National Newspaper Association to make his work available to member publications. If your local paper is an NNA member, it might be worth a letter to the editor, encouraging them to carry his work.