UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) June 07, 2007
More than four months into the "surge" strategy the statistics of U.S., insurgent and civilian casualties reveal an escalating war that may be entering a decisive "tipping point" phase. The Pentagon claims that since January, U.S. forces have killed or captured more than 20,000 insurgents. Although this figure is impressive, it suggests that the total number of active insurgents has risen dramatically from the top level of only 20,000 in U.S. military estimates during much of 2005 and 2006.
From June 2005 through September 2006, the total number of insurgents was repeatedly put at 20,000 by U.S. officials, according to figures compiled by the Iraq Index Project of the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. However, the IIP put the most recent estimate available to it for March 2007 at 70,000 Sunni insurgents in Iraq, including non-operational supporters. It cited as its source "an analyst employed by the U.S. military."
So far neither the old cautious strategy of the former U.S. ground forces in Iraq commander, Gen. George Casey, nor the current surge strategy of his successor, Gen. David Petraeus, has succeeded in significantly reducing the insurgents' capabilities to inflict losses on U.S. casualties.
U.S. casualties, especially fatalities, soared in April and May this year. After a long period when we monitored in these columns the bulk of insurgent activity being directed against the new Iraqi army and security forces, the insurgents are now putting their primary focus on U.S. forces, especially in Baghdad.
This marks a dramatic change from the first two months of the "surge" especially in Baghdad, when the insurgents were lying low and avoiding direct clashes against U.S. forces.
The percentage of U.S. fatalities caused by improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, placed as roadside bombs fell from 62.6 percent in December to 40.5 percent in January and 31.6 percent in February. But then it jumped back to 62.2 percent in March, 57.7 percent in April and 64.6 percent in May, according to IIP figures.
In all, 1,357 deaths, or 38.8 percent of all U.S. military deaths in Iraq from the beginning of U.S. military operations to topple Saddam Hussein on March 19, 2003, to June 3 this year, have been caused by IEDs, the IIP said. More U.S. troops were killed by IEDs in May than in any previous single month in the entire Iraq conflict, the IIP said. The figure was 82. The previous worst month for fatalities from IED attacks was December 2006 when 72 were killed. The third worst was April this year, in which 60 were killed, according to the IIP figures.
If the IED fatality figures for U.S. troops in June prove to be comparable to those for April and May, it will suggest that the insurgents have been able to boost their capability to inflict increased casualties on U.S. forces.
These figures confirm that in terms of tactics and technological responses, the U.S. armed forces and Department of Defense have still failed to master the IED threat, almost three years after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz set up the Joint Improvised Explosive Devices Defeat Organization.
JIEDDO has grown into a fiscal and bureaucratic juggernaut whose budget has soared from $3.8 billion to $4.4 billion. No one in Congress wanted to stint on funding the development of technologies that could save the lives of U.S. soldiers from IEDs. But JIEDDO's technological advances have come slowly and at enormous financial cost, and the insurgents in Iraq have so far been able to adapt relatively quickly to these changes.
The insurgents' continuing and apparently growing IED capability does not automatically mean they are winning, or will win, the war. U.S. forces have been chalking up impressive successes, too. The Washington Post reported Sunday that 1,700 key or significant insurgent fighters had been killed or captured so far this year. That figure suggests a significant attrition of experienced insurgent leadership cadres.
Also, the IIP reported May 30 that extrajudicial killings -- mainly the murders of random Sunni civilians by Shiite militia forces -- in Baghdad remain only half of what they were before the surge strategy was initiated, and car bombing attacks -- usually by Sunni insurgents against Shiite civilians -- were one-third lower in May than what the IIP described as their "2007 norm to date."
Overall, these figures suggest real progress achieved by U.S. forces, but at the cost of increased casualties, and in the face of a Sunni insurgent force that manifestly has not yet lost its lethality.
earlier related report
Some of the press accounts of the surgeon general's study, "Mental Health Advisory Team (MHAT) IV; Operation Iraqi Freedom 05-07," also reported the more detailed findings from its chapter on "Battlefield Ethics." The information became more disconcerting; the problems were clearly more serious and pervasive than the executive summary indicated:
"Only 47 percent of soldiers and only 38 percent of Marines agreed that non-combatants should be treated with dignity and respect."
"Well over a third of soldiers and Marines reported torture should be allowed, whether to save the life of a fellow soldier or Marine ... or to obtain important information about insurgents. ..." Some 28 percent of soldiers and 30 percent of Marines reported they had cursed and/or insulted Iraqi non-combatants in their presence. Nine percent and 12 percent, respectively, reported damaging or destroying Iraqi property "when it was not necessary." Four percent and 7 percent, respectively, reported hitting or kicking a non-combatant "when it was not necessary."
The study also reports that only 55 percent of soldiers and just 40 percent of Marines would report a unit member injuring or killing "an innocent non-combatant," and just 43 percent and 30 percent, respectively, would report a unit member destroying or damaging private property.
It is notable that these are the responses the survey team received; there are probably more soldiers and Marines who may have been reluctant to respond completely and accurately to an Army questionnaire on such sensitive topics. Therefore, the data recorded should be regarded as a floor, not a ceiling.
Regardless of just how frequent the abuse may be beyond the survey results, these are descriptions of behaviors that can only alienate the Iraqi population against the U.S. military presence there, and against any among that population, including its politicians, who welcome or even tolerate our presence. It is not just that we are not winning; we are helping the enemy. When the historians explain why America lost the war in Iraq, this study should be prominent evidence.
Reacting to the surgeon general's devastating study, our coalition commander in Iraq, U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, said he was "very concerned" and that he had been writing "a memorandum to our leaders and to our troopers to discuss these kinds of issues and to note that we can never sink to the level of the enemy." It is the kind of reaction one might expect from a politician being careful to offend no one, except Iraqis, or perhaps a bureaucrat who believes memoranda make the world go around.
If he read the entire study from the surgeon general, Petraeus probably hopes that no one else reads it. The study seeks to explain the reasons for our troops' abusive behavior, and that explanation casts devastating illumination on the logic of this war. It also provides a prospective explanation for why the "surge" of American troops in Iraq, which Petraeus has accepted as his mission, can only make things worse.
Page 38 of the surgeon general's study states that "soldiers who screened positive for a mental health problem (anxiety, depression or acute stress) were twice as likely to engage in unethical behavior (i.e., abuse of Iraqi civilians) compared to those soldiers who did not screen positive." Subsequent pages make the same point about Marines.
What causes the "anxiety, depression or acute stress" that can result in the abuse? For Army personnel, deployment tempo is a major factor: "Soldiers deployed to Iraq more than once were more likely to screen positive for acute stress," notes the report. And perhaps even more significantly, given the rotation schedule in Iraq: "Long deployment length (described as one year) continues to be the top concern for ... soldiers."
The study recommended extending the period of time soldiers spend at home with their families to 18-36 months, while also decreasing the length of deployments in Iraq to under one year.
As the study noted, Marines typically deploy to Iraq for six or seven months, and the study found that "because of shorter deployments, Marines tend to have fewer deployment concerns" and the resultant stress from that cause. But the Marines engaged in the same "unethical" behavior toward Iraqi civilians. The study made it clear that Marines share other conditions with soldiers, especially involvement in combat.
Next: Levels of combat involvement.
(Winslow T. Wheeler is the director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information in Washington, D.C.)
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)
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Brookings Institution Iraq Index Project
Iraq: The first technology war of the 21st century
Former Generals Slam Iraq-Korea Comparison
Washington (UPI) June 05, 2007
Two former U.S. Army generals and a former high-ranking Pentagon official have criticized the Bush administration for comparing the war in Iraq to the Korean War. White House Press Secretary Tony Snow made the comparison in comments last week. But his remarks infuriated some retired senior U.S. Army officers. "It's a gross over-simplification to reassure people that we have a longer-term plan," retired Lt. Gen. Don Kerrick said in a teleconference Friday.
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