Grim milestone as US death toll in Iraq reaches 1,500

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US death toll in Iraq reaches 1,500
By Philippe Naughton

A grim milestone was passed in Iraq today when a US Marine was killed in action south of Baghdad – the 1,500th American soldier to lose his life since the invasion.

The US military said the soldier, assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, was killed “while conducting security and stability operations”.

It would not give any more details, saying in a statement: “Force protection measures preclude the release of any information that could aid enemy personnel in assessing the effectiveness, or lack thereof, with regard to their tactics, techniques and procedures. The release of more details about the incident could place our personnel at greater risk.”

The soldier will not be named until his next of kin is informed.

     

The death of the Marine brought the US military toll to exactly 1,500 since the US-led invasion on March 20, 2003, almost two years ago. A total of 86 UK soldiers have died in Iraq during the same period.

Iraqbodycount.net, an independent website which relies on credible media reports of deaths, puts the number of Iraqi civilians killed since the invasion at up to 18,395 – although it says many other deaths may have gone unreported. A statistical study in the medical journal the Lancet estimated that Iraqi civilian deaths could be as high as 198,000.

Worryingly, the number of military deaths has shown no sign of falling since President Bush landed on USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003 with a banner saying “Mission Accomplished” and declared an end to major combat operations.

A total of 107 US military personnel were killed in Iraq in January, including 31 in a still unexplained helicopter crash in the western desert near Jordan that was the single most costly incident for US forces since the invasion. Ninety per cent of all coalition deaths have come since the US command celebrated the fall of Baghdad.

Experts say the death toll from Iraq is still minor compared to that of the war in Vietnam, the greatest blunder in US military history, where the death of 58,000 Americans instilled a generational fear of ‘body bags’ in Pentagon planners.

But the losses in Iraq signally failed to derail President Bush’s re-election last November, although it has helped to polarize American voters over the issue of Iraq.

Ted Carpenter, a defense analyst at Washington’s Cato Institute, said that a more useful comparison might be made with Soviet losses in Afghanistan in the 1980s – another situation that pitted an invading superpower against a tenacious Muslim insurgency.

About 15,000 Soviet troops were killed during nine years of fighting after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, a monthly total about twice as high as that suffered by the more highly trained US forces in Iraq.

Carpenter said: “Unless the US either can crush the insurgency or negotiate an end to the insurgency, then we’re going to see casualty rates similar to those that the Soviets suffered in Afghanistan.

“Though it’s not like the Battle of Verdun in World War One (260,000 dead, 450,000 wounded), it’s a slow bleed of the occupation army.”

Paul Beaver, an influential British defense analyst, disagrees with the comparison, saying that the coalition in Iraq has learned its lessons from the mistakes of the Soviet Red Army.

Mr Beaver expects American troops, and our British allies, to remain in Iraq until at least the end of 2006 during which time they will gradually improve the security situation to allow a meaningful takeover by the elected Iraqi government. There can be no easy exits before then.
 
“You never win these conflicts. All you can do is to create a situation where the politics take over,” Beaver told Times Online.

And Beaver sees no reason why the body count should suddenly become a hot political issue with US voters. “What’s hugely important is that 9/11 cured Americans of the ‘Vietnam syndrome’,” he said. “The Americans are now prepared to engage, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, or even elsewhere.”

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