McClatchy Newspapers note that despite the new aggressive strategy and tactics taken by the American forces in Iraq, combat deaths have dropped to half of their peak since the start of the surge. Or, perhaps, the decline may not come in spite of the new tactics after all (via QandO):
American combat deaths in Iraq have dropped by half in the three months since the buildup of 28,000 additional U.S. troops reached full strength, surprising analysts and dividing them as to why.
U.S. officials had predicted that the increase would lead to higher American casualties as the troops "took the fight to the enemy." But that hasn't happened, even though U.S. forces have launched major offensives involving thousands of troops north and south of Baghdad.
American combat casualties have dropped to their lowest levels this year, even as violence involving Iraqis remains high.
In fact, the combat death rate hit a one-year low in August, about the same time last year that the previous security plan for Baghdad was deemed a failure. The peak came as General David Petraeus ramped up offensive operations in April of this year, breaking out of defensive positions and attacking the enemies in Anbar, Diyala, and Baghdad. Everyone understood that the aggressive tactics would bring more casualties; that was the main argument against the extended deployment for the surge.
As predicted, casualities increased to twice that of the previous summer as US forces initiated combat against the entrenched terrorists and insurgents in western Iraq. An odd development occurred, though, as Petraeus added more forces to the battle -- deaths began to drop rapidly. June, July, and now August each brought stark reductions in KIAs.
So what happened? McClatchy reports that some people believe that the insurgents and terrorists simply decided not to fight the Americans. That's hardly been the experience of Michael Yon and Michael Totten, who have embedded with these troops and reported extensively on the battles. The explanation that McClatchy saves for the final paragraph appears to explain it better:
Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute, a Washington-area research center, warned that reducing the number of troops could lead to an increase in casualties. He said the drop could be because the size of the built-up forces intimidated Iraq's various factions.
"Ironically, we may lose fewer soldiers the more we have exposed" to combat, Thompson said. "A large U.S. combat presence might reduce casualties by intimidating the enemy."
This hardly seems like a hidden gem of military wisdom -- it's the basis of warfare throughout history. It combines with another ageless bit of military wisdom, which is that a well-planned offense will keep the enemy on the defensive and retreating, rather than planning and executing attacks on one's own soldiers, thus reducing needless combat deaths. If the enemy has no solid ground on which to attack, they are less likely to launch effective missions, and combat deaths get reduced. Also, when one kills enemy forces, they don't come back from the dead to commit more attacks.
If all of this seems like common sense, it hasn't quite registered with McClatchy. At least they're noting the improvement, if not grasping its source.