April 6, 2007:
The current "surge offensive" in
Iraq is being accomplished with remarkably low casualties. In March American
and Iraq security forces had 290 dead, of which 28 percent were American.
Civilian losses were 1,872, giving a total of 2,162. As usual, over 95 percent
of the dead were Iraqi. The United States has refused to release official
numbers on enemy dead, not wanting to get into the "body count" business that
was so unpopular in Vietnam. The problem with getting numbers on enemy dead is
that the bad guys don't wear uniforms, and it's often difficult to determine if
a dead civilian, even one found holding a weapon, was a terrorist, or a someone
fighting the terrorists and caught in the cross fire. By law, each Iraqi
household is allowed to have one firearm, usually an AK-47, for self-defense.
Most of the time, these weapons are only used to fire a few rounds into the air
during celebrations, a local tradition in this part of the world.
The terrorists have tried to keep their casualties
down, mainly because they are not well trained or led, and get slaughtered when
they fight American, or even Iraqi, troops. Firefights between American troops
and Iraqi terrorists tend to go very badly for the Iraqis, so the terrorists
avoid those kinds of actions. Moreover, many of the Iraqi (but not the
foreigners) terrorists are paid for their work, and look at it as a job, not a
form of suicide. Even so, at least a third of the "civilian" deaths are
believed to be hostile gunmen or suicide bombers.
Most American casualties are from roadside bombs
and snipers. For this year so far, American dead have been around 80 a month.
During the height of the Vietnam war, that was a typical daily American death
toll. In Vietnam, American troops were about three times more likely to get
killed or wounded. Better body armor, training, leadership and medical care has
reduced the number of deaths even more in Iraq. But it's still a dangerous war.
The enemy is forced to use ambush and booby traps, and has gotten quite good at
it. This is not a winning strategy, but it is a deadly one for both sides.