Iraq: August 3, 2004


American combat deaths in July were 42, the same as in June, but far below the 80 deaths in May. Since Iraq operations began, 25 female troops have died, which is about three percent of the total. Women comprise about 12 percent of the troops in Iraq. Roadside bombs continue to account for about 40 percent of the deaths. The chances of encountering a roadside bomb are low, one or two percent a day. There are over a thousand American road movements a day, and most of the roadside bombs planted are discovered and disposed of before they can hurt anyone. But several times a week, someone does get hurt, and the losses add up. 

While journalists breathlessly report the number of American combat deaths each month, historians are amazed for how low they are. But it's all relative. During World War II, many army or marine divisions suffered over a hundred combat dead a day. Americans were not happy with this, but we were at war. Things changed in Vietnam during the 1960s, where, when American combat deaths went over a hundred a week, it was big news. But that loss rate was about a dozen per division per week. Such a casualty rate during World War II would have been termed "very light." But at the time, in Vietnam, journalists described it as a blood bath. The casualty rate in Iraq is less than a quarter of what it was in Vietnam and unusually low for the level of operations carried out. But only a historian would notice this. Another thing a military historian would notice is the lower American casualty rate per encounter with the enemy. Better sensors, better training and better protective gear has made combat encounters less likely to cause friendly casualties. The troops know something very important is going on here, because many senior NCOs and officers know what casualties were in past wars, and what kind of conditions made it so. Unfortunately, journalistic demands for dramatic reporting cause material like this to be ignored. The military doesn't ignore it, but studies it intensively. A lot of this work is classified, for it includes developing new tactics and methods in order to get the friendly casualties lower still. 



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