US military losses in Iraq for September stood at 70 on Sunday, the lowest monthly figure since July last year, according to an AFP tally based on Pentagon figures.As much as I admire Bush's often stubborn refusal to bend to popular sentiment, there's sometimes a heavy price to pay for that refusal--and the unwillingness to treat Iraq like an occupied country turns out to be one of those prices.
The figure also marks the fourth consecutive drop in the monthly death toll following a high of 121 in May. June saw 93 deaths, July 82 and August 79. The monthly toll in July 2006 was 53.
Two US soldiers were killed on Saturday in separate incidents, pushing the overall toll of American losses since the March 2003 invasion to 3,801.
A surge in US troop numbers saw an extra 28,500 personnel deployed from mid-February, mainly in Baghdad and the neighbouring province of Anbar, although commanders said most were not in combat positions until May.
US commanders say the strategy is starting to work and that levels of violence are dropping, allowing for a possible drawdown of the 160,000 or so troops now deployed.
"The trend is certainly in the right direction," US military spokesman Rear Admiral Mark Fox told a press conference in Baghdad.
"The surge unquestionably is what has been the catalyst that has created the opportunity to have more forces operating in more places at the same time and to deny Al-Qaeda and the extremists safe-haven and to take away sanctuaries."
It's easy to show our good our 20/20 hindsight is--and as I have acknowledged, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's decision to keep the number of troops low in Iraq was logical. It just didn't work. I wonder how differently this might have worked out if in September of 2001 President Bush had asked:
1. For an immediate enlargement of the armed forces to a war footing--perhaps adding several hundred thousand men.
2. When we invaded Iraq, put 300,000 or 400,000 soldiers in place. We could have sealed the borders, and prevented much of the al-Qaeda and Iranian infiltration.
3. With this many troops, it is possible that the bloody fighting that took place would simply not have gone very far--and with the enhanced stability, perhaps the Iraqi government would have been able to take charge--and we could have been either out, or with just a few garrisons there by now.
There are two very important points about all this:
1. Democracies aren't very good at fighting prolonged wars. Public sentiment against the costs in lives and money add up--and completely despicable sorts start looking for a way to gain political advantage by attacking the war. I don't mean legitimate criticism of how it is being fought, but the dishonest trash that a number of Democrats who supported the war started spreading about when they saw a chance to get control of Congress back. This means that a democracy needs to win quickly.
2. The U.S. has one enormous advantage when it comes to fighting a war: a large military, lots of material resources, and the ability to get them into position very quickly. One of the mistakes of Vietnam (and there were many, including the decision to fight that war) was that we escalated our troops slowly enough that the Soviet Union was able to match its level of support to North Vietnam. I find myself wondering if we had moved 540,000 men into Vietnam in two or three months--instead of taking several years--might have broken the ability of the Soviet Union to keep up in providing ammunition and supplies.
UPDATE: Gateway Pundit has some graphs showing that it isn't just U.S. military deaths that are falling, and links to this October 1, 2007 BBC report:
Iraq violent death rates 'plunge'
The number of Iraqi civilians killed per month in bombings and shootings has fallen to the lowest level this year, the Iraqi government says.
In September, 884 civilians were killed by violence, less than half the figure for August, the government said.
The BBC's Jon Brain in Baghdad says the figures suggest the so-called surge involving 30,000 extra US troops is having some success.