Attrition: The Cost of Not Being in Iraq

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December22, 2006: While about three thousand U.S. troops have died in Iraq since 2003, only about 300 have died in Afghanistan, since 2001. That includes 35 percent of the fatalities that were from non-combat causes. Elsewhere in the war on terror (Guantanamo Bay, Djibouti, Eritrea, Jordan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Philippines, Seychelles, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkey and Yemen) there have been 61 deaths (including four CIA agents) since 2001, but only two of these were the result of hostile action. .

Afghanistan is a very different war, compared to Iraq. For one thing, there are seven times as many American troops in Iraq, and the tempo of combat is heavier as well. But the main difference is fewer troops. There are also fewer hostiles in Afghanistan, and the Taliban are not as well trained as the opposition in Iraq. Most of the mayhem in Iraq is organized and carried out by thousands of secret police veterans of Saddams government. The Taliban were never much more than tribal militias, and remain a primitive and less effective force than their Iraqi counterparts.

The differences between Iraq and Afghanistan, and the growth of Iraqi security forces (police and army) to over 300,000 troops (compared to about 100,000 in Afghanistan, a nation with the same size population), make it seem a reasonable proposition that if the United States just told the Iraqis to take care of Saddam's people themselves and pulled most Americans out, there would be a lot fewer U.S. casualties. The problem with that, and few politicians want to discuss this angle, is that, with American troops gone, the Sunni Arab minority in Iraq would be attacked, and the survivors driven out of the country. This is already happening, in slow motion (about a third of the Sunni Arabs are already dead or in exile). The Sunni Arabs have been earning this kind of retribution for decades, as they slaughtered, starved and tortured the Kurds and Shia Arabs (who comprise 80 percent of the population.) It's one of those things the rest of the world simply condemned, and did nothing about. It's an ugly situation, which would be a lot uglier if there weren't so many American troops in the area.

 


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