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Friday, November 02, 2007

October Brought Positive Front Line News

Some welcome news. From Stars and Stripes:

American military deaths in Iraq have hit their lowest point in 20 months, with commanders and soldiers saying the numbers show marked improvement in the security situation throughout the country.

The Pentagon has thus far reported 39 U.S. servicemember deaths for October, down from the 65 reported in September, which itself had been the lowest in 16 months. The October number is the lowest since March 2006, when 32 deaths were reported. Three more deaths were reported at press time, though a final count could not be confirmed.

The number of coalition combat deaths in Iraq dropped in October to the lowest monthly total since February 2004, officials said Thursday.

Still, 2007 is shaping up to be the deadliest year in Iraq since the war began. As of the end of October, 842 deaths have been reported by the Pentagon. With two months left in the year, the total figure is likely to surpass the 849 deaths reported in 2004, the previous yearly high.

In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.


Military officials attributed the declining deaths over the past two months largely to two factors: the “surge” of additional troops in and around Baghdad; and the turnaround in Anbar province, where Sunni tribes have — at least temporarily — aligned themselves with U.S. forces and brought relative calm to what was once the deadliest area for American forces in Iraq. ...

The 4th Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division has suffered its first two deaths in more than a month Wednesday, but U.S. military officers in northern Iraq said the low number of U.S. deaths in October was a definite sign that insurgents had been dealt a severe blow in Ninevah Province.

“I think it’s because of the ‘surge,’” said Maj. Mark Reeves, operations officer for 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment. “If you’ve got more troops on the ground, you can kill more bad guys, cover more ground and secure more of the population.”

Col. Stephen Twitty, 4th Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division commander, said that as far as Ninevah was concerned, the low U.S. death rate was attributable to two things — the improving capabilities of Iraqi security forces in the province, and his troops’ dogged pursuit of the enemy.

“We’ve lost blood in a bad way, but because we’ve worked hard to get to where we are now, the casualty rate has gone down,” he said. The brigade has lost 31 soldiers during this deployment, which is scheduled to end in December.

But Reeves cautioned that it was difficult to gauge the extent to which U.S. forces have degraded the insurgents’ offensive capabilities, saying that only time would tell.

The reduced number of deaths track with a reduction in attacks on U.S. and Iraqi security forces, according to a report issued earlier this week by the Government Accountability Office.

While the report was critical of slow progress on political and reconstruction programs, it found insurgent attacks had hit the lowest point since early 2006. The GAO report said total enemy attacks were down from around 5,300 in June to around 3,000 in September, still an average of nearly 100 a day.

According to military officials, the total number of attacks in the Baghdad area was 2,455 in January; by October, that number had fallen to 598. Also, Iraqi ministries reported that 554 Iraqis had been killed in October, the lowest tally since February 2006, when the bombing of a Shiite shrine launched sectarian violence throughout the country.

Iraqi deaths peaked in January, when the ministries reported 1,992 Iraqi deaths.

A few more stats from Newsday:

The three U.S. soldiers killed in northern Iraq died Wednesday - two in an explosion near their vehicle in Ninevah province, the third killed by a roadside bomb in Salahuddin province, also north of Baghdad. Their deaths brought the U.S. military toll for October to 39, the eighth lowest monthly toll since the invasion began.

Five corpses were found in the capital yesterday - a low figure compared with scores found daily several months ago. One body was found farther north and near the Iranian border, morgue officials said.

The Iraqi daily toll yesterday tallies with recent trends showing the number of civilians who met violent deaths fell sharply in October. The number of Iraqi civilians killed dropped from at least 1,023 in September to at least 905 in October, according to an AP count. The number of American military deaths fell from 65 in September.

America's No. 2 military commander in Iraq said yesterday there had been a sharp decline in the number of EFPs, or explosively formed projectiles, found across the country over the past three months.

Army Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno said there were 30 EFP explosions in October and 23 more found unexploded. That compares with a total of 99 in July, 78 in August and 52 in September, he said. But Odierno said it was unclear whether the decline was attributable to the Iranians curtailing the flow of the weapons.

Meanwhile, Iraqi and American forces captured some 118 suspected insurgents in two days of raids in central and northern Iraq. U.S. troops killed 14 suspects during the operations, the military said. Iraqi forces killed 13 suspects, police said, after storming a suspected al-Qaida hideout yesterday near Khalis, a town in Diyala province where the terror organization has a heavy presence.

Increased security probably makes missions like the one below possible. Again, from Stars and Stripes:

Medical mission brings relief to Iraqi villagers

At first, the villagers came in just a trickle. Then as word spread that U.S. troops were treating the sick and ailing, the trickle turned into a torrent. Within an hour, the line to get into the impromptu clinic set up inside an empty house stretched in both directions down the narrow and dusty, trash-filled street.

Soldiers with Troop A, 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment treated more than 100 villagers during a medical relief mission. They turned away at least that many as darkness neared and they ran out of time.

The three-hour event was one of two “med-op” missions that the squadron conducted Tuesday in their area on the southeastern outskirts of Baghdad, said Lt. Col. John Kolasheski, squadron commander. Soldiers with Troop B treated another 170 people in another nearby village. Similar operations were scheduled for Wednesday in two additional villages.

Even as U.S. forces continue to target Sunni insurgents and Shiite militants in what they term “kinetic” operations, medical relief missions like the one in Arabia Tuesday are another essential “line of operations” that U.S. troops in Iraq are pursuing to win over local populations. It’s a page straight out of classic counterinsurgency doctrine.

“I can go from kicking in doors one minute to doing humanitarian aid missions the next,” said Capt. Troy Thomas, 34, of Litchfield, Minn., Troop A’s commander. “We’re not going to win this war going at it one-dimensionally.”

Although they were prepared for the worst if necessary — insurgents had fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a U.S. helicopter in the area on the day before — the Troop A soldiers were greeted with nothing but smiles as they treated villagers for everything from aches and pains to viral infections.

The soldiers had already established a lot of goodwill in the village. They are helping 19-year-old Suham Hassan Ka-Naan, who lost both legs in an insurgent attack three years ago, get fitted for new prosthetic legs.

The attention they’re giving Suham has made them immensely popular in Arabia.

“We’re definitely like rock stars in this village,” Thomas said.

Read the rest. (H/t to Bruce)

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