Monday, March 20, 2006

Softer Targets

USA Today is out with an article that, despite its faults, offers a more realistic view of the situation in Iraq than most MSM efforts.

Analyzing military data, the paper has determined that U.S. casulty rates are approaching their lowest level since the insurgency began three years ago. According to USA Today, U.S. military forces are averaging about one death a day in Iraq; overall, an average of 15 Americans and 73 Iraqis are killed or wounded in Iraq each day. Please note the word "or." As in most wars, there are far more wounded than those killed. And, the paper fails to distinguish between troops killed in combat, or those that die in accidents. Over the past three years, more than 300 Americans have died in traffic accidents or training mishaps in Iraq, but those non-combat deaths are usually lumped into the overall casualty totals, in part, because it raises the numbers.

While U.S. casualties have plummeted in recent months, the number of Iraqis killed and injured is on the rise. This is the result of several factors; first, more Iraqi security forces are on the street, and bearing the brunt of combat; secondly, the terrorists are shifting their focus to Iraqi troops and civilian targets, finding them easier to attack and (finally) improved counter-IED tactics are reducing losses among American personnel. Coalition spokesman Maj Gen Rick Lynch says at least 40% of all IEDs are now found and disarmed before they are detonated, and I've seen estimates that put the number closer to 50%.

In any insurgency, the bad guys look for targets that are accessible and vulnerable. If the Americans are becoming harder to target, then put the Iraqis in the cross-hairs. That strategy will produce more carnage for Al Jazeera, but it's not a game-winner by any stretch. There has been an increasing backlash against Al-Qaida and its agents inside Iraq in recent months, and one reason that we're neutralizing more IEDs (and terrorists) is that Iraqis of all stripes--including Sunnis--are providing accurate intelligence. The on-going operation in the Samarra region is an example. By one account, U.S. and Iraqi troops have captured enough explosives and timing devices to make over 400 IEDs, and the ranks of skilled bomb makers have been depleted by recent attacks.

Make no mistakes; bombings in Iraq will continue for some time, and coalition forces will continue to take casualties. But--barring some sort of unforseen breakthrough in enemy bomb-making technology and emplacement tactics--the rate of losses will continue to decline, as the terrorists play out a bloody, but ultimately, losing hand.

One final thought: as the terrorists shift their focus to the Iraqis (and try to forment a civil war), we can expect more attacks along the lines of the Golden Mosque bombing. Iraq's fledgling security forces may face their gravest challenge over the next six months. At this point, a civil war may be the terrorists' only viable, long-term option for sustaining their campaign, and defeating the Americans.

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