By Other Means
One of today's lead stories is that the U.S. Toll in Iraq Pushes Past 1,700. This is a cumulative number. A comparison of US deaths with the same month a year ago yields the following figures. (Source: Global Security Org. Note these numbers included nonbattle casualties.)
|2004 Killed||2005 Killed||2004 Wounded||2005 Wounded|
Another view of the same picture is provided by the Iraqi Coalition Casualty Count website.
From a statistical point of view combat in Iraq has been as deadly as the year previous. The absolute numbers of fatalities are roughly comparable though the number wounded is down from the same period in 2004. The arrival of significant larger numbers of Iraqi police and army into combat means that the actual level of combat operations is probably increasing. This is reflected in the Iraqi government casualty returns which are in addition to US losses. Iraqi government soldiers are taking casualties at a rate three times larger than the American.
|2005||Iraqi police and army casualties|
|Total prior to 2005||1,300|
Fester, a self-described "Lefty Political Blog" claims that the Coalition is actually losing the war using the following calculation. (Unfortunately Fester's estimate of the number of enemy losses, which he argues are equal to the American is based on a dead link.)
However, US forces, due to superior armor and medical care, sustain roughly five incapacitating woundings for every fatality (on average) and four or five more minor woundings. The approximately 70 US combat deaths means that 330 other troops are also incapacitated (evacuated or removed from their units for at least 72 hours due to combat wounds). This increased resilency masks some of the effectiveness of the insurgent operations. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that the insurgents lost roughly 500 men to any future combat operations in the month of May while inflicing roughly 450-500 permanent direct losses on the Iraqi government forces and another 400 US soldiers are out of action due to death or serious combat injuries. Therefore the incapacitation ratio is roughly 1.8:1 in favor of the insurgents. Against US forces only, the ratio is near unity. ...
Why do I argue that a smaller force (even if compared only against the international troops) that is taking near unity fatalities is winning? Simply because it has always been far cheaper, easier and quicker for an insurgent force to regenerate than for a counterinsurgent force to regenerate. Additionally, it is highly probable that the vast majority of insurgent fatalities and incapacitations are coming from direct combat with American combat units. In this arena, the insurgents are trading roughly 5 total insurgents killed or incapacitated for every 4 US soldiers killed/incapacitated.
If Fester were right, then Iraqi insurgent kill ratios against US troops would be an historical high rate. Common Dreams, a left of center site, used the reverse of Fester's argument to reach the same conclusion, which was that American kill ratios, no matter how high, were an exercise in futility.
US soldiers are already successful at killing Iraqis. In the invasion itself, from mid-March to May 1, 2003, US and British forces killed Iraqis at a rate of 60-1, according to the Cambridge-based Project for Defense Alternatives. Rumsfeld boasted that Iraqi military personnel would become our loyal friends once "they are persuaded that the regime is history." Over the winter Saddam Hussein was captured. But chaos continues. In the latest insurgency, we have killed at least 1,000 Iraqis. Despite the American fatalities, we are still killing Iraqis at a 10-to-1 ratio. Yesterday, the commander of US forces in Iraq, Ricardo Sanchez, boasted that the insurgents have "seen the might of the American military unleashed." Yet Rumsfeld needs more soldiers to unleash more might. We have been here before. In 1966 in Vietnam, we killed North Vietnamese soldiers and the Viet Cong at a 14-1 clip. The US military was convinced it would win a war of attrition. We escalated the war. But in 1967, 1968, and 1969 -- the years where Americans suffered the most battle deaths -- the kill ratio remained one US soldier to 14 fighters for North Vietnam.
Engagements individually covered by the Press almost never exhibit an insurgent-US kill ratio of unity. ABC News recorded the relative casualties of the recently concluded Operation Matador at 125 insurgents killed against 9 Marines KIA and 40 wounded. It may be argued that IED attacks, however, cause a steady dribble of unanswered casualties which statistically offset the gains of set-piece battles which the US wins. But on the other hand, there are many insurgent losses which are hardly reported at all as those who read the posts of soldiers based in Iraq will attest. But even if one were to disregard these, Fester's arithmetic does not include enemy prisoners of war, who are also removed from combat and moreover provide a source of intelligence the dead do not. All in all, the insurgent-US casualty exchange rate is unlikely to be unity. Nor is it clear that it will be "far cheaper, easier and quicker for an insurgent force to regenerate than for a counterinsurgent force to regenerate" where the insurgents come from the Sunni minority while the counterinsurgent force comes from the Shi'ite and Kurdish majority of the population.
Yet the question remains: if the insurgency is losing then why is the level of combat constant or increasing? The only answer, admittedly one that will not convince everybody, is to point to the pattern of operations. In 2004 the insurgent strategy was to co-opt or infiltrate government security forces. That failed and the insurgents are now meeting government forces in combat, a fact attested by the losses the Iraqi police and army are taking in the fight. When the Daily Kos argues that Iraqi government soldiers are so much "fresh meat" it glosses over the fact that these forces are in fact fighting the enemy and not spying or secretly colluding with the insurgents. After the First Battle of Fallujah, coalition operations went on the strategic offensive: Najaf, the Second Fallujah, Ramadi, the Elections, and then in rapid order Matador, New Market, Lightning and the recent cordon and sweep at Tal Afar. It does not seem like a force which, as the Daily Kos claims, "is treading water". During World War 2 the years with highest American casualty figures were 1944 and 1945. The US lost nearly 1 in every 20 men killed in World War 2 on the one island of Okinawa, but America was on the offensive and winning; while the years with the lowest casualty figures in Vietnam were 1972 and 1973 where America was in retreat. One rarely noticed statistic that is highly inconsistent with military parity suggested by Fester and Kos is the almost absolute lack of American prisoners in insurgent hands. In Vietnam, almost 2,500 men were taken prisoner by the NVA. On the global battlefield against terror (not just in Iraq) the number of American prisoners in enemy hands is nearly zero, despite the fact that hostage taking and beheadings are a favorite mode of terrorist combat.
The intensity of fighting in Iraqi is probably equal or greater to 2004 as a direct function of increased offensive contact with the enemy, but not at parity ratio of exchange that Fester suggests. One engagement of which a long-term account has been kept in Michael Yon's narrative of the Battle of Mosul, which never flinches from describing Coalition losses but is never ignorant of enemy losses as well.
My previous post, The Battle for Mosul (posted May 14, 2005), described in detail how the fighting came to Mosul. As bloody as May has been, it's important to see it in the proper historical context. In November and December, as the elections approached, Mosul erupted in violence. The Iraqi police were killed or run off, literally abandoning stations, weapons and all, to insurgent thugs. The US forces were suddenly fighting through ambushes, complex attacks threatening their lives, launched by an organized and equipped enemy who fully intended to chase the American "occupiers" away.
The enemy fired thousands of mortar rounds, seeded roads with innumerable bombs so that IEDs were like light poles, and fired tons of ammunition. Bases were attacked with mortars, rockets and small arms, and the moment the Americans launched off in response, it was full-on firefights. Dozens of American soldiers died, and hundreds were wounded. The enemy gained their dwindling victories largely through audacity and determination, but audacity goes both ways, and determination is never enough.
In each engagement, the Americans were decimating the enemy, chiseling off chunks of combatants, and seizing and destroying their weapons and explosives. The harder the enemy fought the more fighters they lost; they were facing a foe that was better equipped, more resilient, and a lot harder than the enemy expected. After months of intense fighting, Coalition forces changed the ground conditions dramatically. The Coalition now owns the open roads, while the enemy scrambles to hiding places in the alleys. The challenge has always been to hold Mosul without destroying the city. It remains the order of the day. ...
Instead of leveling the enemy with outright combat like they did in November and December when they were openly fighting in the streets, Deuce-Four uses every intelligence apparatus available to aid in capturing the enemy, because the enemy, once captured, usually sells out the cell members who've squeezed themselves into cracks in the back alleys of Mosul. The change in operations is also because the enemy no longer presents the targets that they did in November and December when they massed and tried to fight Deuce-Four head to head.
Capturing the enemy creates a cascading effect through the insurgency. A dead enemy is just dead. Game over. But every singing captive leads to another and another and another, and Deuce-Four can hardly keep pace with the flow of information. As sobering as the casualty numbers are for May, the number of insurgents captured and in custody in that same month—133—are a strong indicator of the success that is mounting. The success comes with a high price: it's always more dangerous to capture an enemy than to kill him. Don't get me wrong, if they see an enemy with a weapon he is dead, no questions asked, nor will they shoot an unarmed man, but Deuce-Four goes through detailed planning and considerable effort to capture the enemy wherever he operates—when he is sleeping at night, when he is eating at his favorite restaurant, or when he is meeting in the darkest corners of the dirtiest alleys.
Yet even Yon, while sensing that progress is being made, cannot put a date certain on when the finish line will be crossed. "How long this might take is anyone's guess. Progress is made every day, but it always takes more time and effort to build than to destroy." In summary the situation can be described as follows. The Coalition is on the strategic offensive, probably inflicting a multiple kill-ratio on the enemy, capturing its leadership, improving its intelligence capacity and generating ever larger numbers of indigenous combat forces. It is basically ascendant in every measurable military category. On the other hand, the insurgents are counting on making America tire of of serial combat victories without apparent end in the belief that if they simply do not admit to loss they will eventually win -- not on the battlefield as Fester and Kos would have us believe -- but on the political front, as they always aimed to do. In a sense, neither Michael Yon nor anyone else can say us when the finish line will be crossed because it lies on a plane which includes, but is not limited to the battlefield. Karl von Clauswitz famously said "War is nothing but a continuation of politics with the admixture of other means." The US military has provided most of the "other means"; it now remains to be seen whether the remainder of its society can provide the rest.