U.S. deaths in Iraq reach 3,000

Grim milestone in Iraq: U.S. deaths reach 3,000

January 01, 2007|By Solomon Moore and Tony Perry | Solomon Moore and Tony Perry,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- As 2006 came to an end, the rising toll of U.S. troops killed in Iraq hit another grim milestone - 3,000 dead.

The latest marker came yesterday as President Bush prepared to lay out his proposals for changing the U.S. strategy in Iraq. He has been meeting with advisers at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, and White House officials have said that he could announce his plans this week.

Bush appears to be leaning toward a troop increase. Some advisers believe more troops could allow U.S.-led forces to tamp down the sectarian war that the Pentagon has identified as the main source of instability in Iraq.

Others, including some top U.S. commanders and many members of Congress, believe that sending more U.S. troops to Iraq would only worsen the situation by reducing the pressure on Iraq's warring parties to settle their differences.

Asked about the death toll, White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said Bush "grieves for each one" and "will ensure their sacrifice was not made in vain."

Since the summer, U.S. commanders have increased the number of troops in Baghdad in an effort to quell the violence. The effort has had little impact on the violence but has increased the number of U.S. troops killed in the capital.

The most recently announced deaths were typical of many in recent months: The Pentagon said Spc. Dustin R. Donica, 22, of Spring, Texas, was killed Thursday by small-arms fire in Baghdad. The U.S. military command said an unidentified soldier died Saturday when a roadside bomb exploded near his patrol in the capital.

Overall, the rate of military fatalities has remained relentless for more than 2 1/2 years, since the insurgency against the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq began to pick up strength in 2004. The U.S. invasion in the spring of 2003 took the lives of 140 American troops. Then, after an initial lull, the 1,000th death was announced in September 2004 and the 2,000th in October 2005.

U.S. casualties continue to be eclipsed by the death toll among Iraqis. At least 5,900 Iraqi police and soldiers have died since 2003, according to the Iraq Index, a database issued by Brookings Institution think tank. Estimates of civilian death tolls have ranged widely, from tens of thousands to more than a half-million.

The 3,000th U.S. military death comes in the wake of the execution of deposed President Saddam Hussein, an event that military leaders believe will lead to more attacks against U.S. troops, at least in the short run.

The U.S. military took no official notice of the 3,000 figure, and some commanders played down the number of fatalities. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway said that, given the significance of Iraq and Afghanistan to U.S. national security, the death toll in the two countries has not been excessive. On average, slightly more than two U.S. troops die in Iraq per day compared with 300 or more a day during World War II, he said.

But the intensity of the fighting and the sense that many American troops are caught in the cross-fire of a civil war have undermined public support. Two prominent Republican senators said yesterday in television interviews that they are skeptical of sending more troops to Iraq.

"The administration needs to identify precisely where the battle lines are - who is it we combat. I haven't seen such lines," said Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Sen. Arlen Specter, who just returned from a trip to the Middle East, said he had not seen the administration lay out a compelling case for troop increases. Lugar spoke on Fox News Sunday and Specter on CNN's Late Edition.

Anthony Cordesman, a military expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said in a public letter last week that the fighting is more intense than the death toll implies.

New protective measures and advances in military medicine reduce the number of deaths but not the difficulty of the war, he said, noting that the total of U.S. killed and wounded reached 25,000 in mid-December.

More than 24,800 other troops suffered noncombat injuries - vehicle crashes, illnesses and other accidents - serious enough to require air transport.

And attacks against U.S. and Iraqi security forces are increasing. The military does not release specific numbers, but the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan government committee convened to find new approaches to the conflict, reported last month that total attacks averaged 180 per day in October, up from 70 per day in January.

Military commanders say the number of U.S. deaths would be far higher if not for improved defenses. U.S. combat vehicles employ jammers to intercept signals to remotely detonated roadside bombs, and American troops rarely leave their bases in anything less than an armored Humvee.

In Baqouba, north of Baghdad, many U.S. troops are conducting operations in Bradley Armored Vehicles and Abrams tanks.

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