Number of wounded U.S. troops falls by 26%
By Matt Kelley, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — The number of U.S. troops wounded in Iraq fell by more than a quarter in 2005 from a year earlier, Pentagon records show. Military officials call that a sign that insurgent attacks have declined in the face of elections and stronger Iraqi security forces.
U.S. Air Force personnel load one of 5,939 U.S. servicemen wounded in Iraq onto a cargo plane Nov. 9.
The number of wounded dropped from 7,990 in 2004 to 5,939, according to the Defense Department. There hasn't been much change in the number of deaths, however. Pentagon figures show 844 U.S. troops were killed in the Iraq war during 2005, compared with 845 in 2004.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has announced plans to cut the number of U.S. troops in Iraq to about 130,000, down from about 160,000 for last month's elections. Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said he's optimistic that security in Iraq will continue to improve and more U.S. forces could leave.
U.S. military leaders say that one of the biggest changes was in the number and quality of Iraqi forces. About three dozen Iraqi battalions, each with about 700 soldiers, are taking the lead in battling insurgents, said Army Lt. Gen. John Vines, commander of multinational forces in Iraq. There were no such battalions in early 2005, he said.
Those Iraqi forces are better trained and equipped than they were a year ago, but their contribution to Iraq's long-term stability is in question, said military analyst Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution in Washington.
"We really don't know how ethnically cohesive they are and how much their loyalty is to the central government rather than their ethnic kinsmen," O'Hanlon said. "Their long-term political loyalties remain to be tested, although their technical skills are getting better."
Vines told reporters in a videoconference Friday that violence also ebbed because some of the Sunni Arabs who make up the backbone of the insurgency decided to participate in last month's elections. "We have indicators that many who we believe may have been involved in violence are seeing that they can and must reject that violence," he said.
Another factor is the lack of the kind of fierce urban fighting that U.S. forces saw in Fallujah during 2004. Casualties spiked when forces led by Marines raided the insurgent stronghold in April and November 2004. The highest number of American troops wounded in battle for any month in Iraq was 1,424 that November.
Vines and other commanders say coalition and Iraqi forces also are doing a better job of preventing and disrupting planned attacks.
Army Maj. Gen. William Webster, the commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad, said the number of suicide car bombs and roadside bombs fell by half during 2005. Only about 10% of insurgent attacks cause injuries or damage now, down from about 25% a year ago, Webster said late last year.
Rumsfeld has said that one possible reason the death rate has not fallen as quickly is that many of the successful attacks have been particularly deadly. In August, for example, a huge bomb destroyed a Marine vehicle, killing 14.
Someone forgot to tell Walter...
What, Allah running out of Martyr's, the news must be out that he only has 72 virgin goats available.
...which are probably now absorbing part of that 26 percent.