U.S. deaths in Iraq this month are approaching 100, making it the second-deadliest month since American forces invaded the country in March 2003, Pentagon records show.
The worst month was last April, with 135 deaths, when the insurgency intensified and U.S. Marines fought fierce battles in Fallujah, only to be withdrawn from the city. That was part of a failed attempt to put the now-defunct Fallujah Brigade of U.S. and allied Iraqi forces in charge.
Until now the second-deadliest month was November 2003 with 82 deaths, and 80 Americans died in May and September this year.
The rising death toll coincides with U.S. military commanders’ efforts to pacify areas of Iraq that need to be brought under Iraqi government control before elections scheduled for late January. It also reflects an escalation of attacks by the insurgents, although some U.S. commanders say they believe this may be a last-gasp effort by rebel forces outmatched by U.S. firepower.
Morale an open question
It is difficult to gauge the effect of the growing death toll on U.S. troop morale. Commanders say their men and women are holding up well, although they caution that more hard fighting lies ahead.
Most of the deaths this month have been in the Fallujah offensive that began Nov. 7. Many Marines and soldiers also have been killed in Ramadi and other cities in Anbar province west of Baghdad, as well as in Mosul in the north, Babil province south of Baghdad and in and around the Iraqi capital.
Support troops also have been killed along supply routes. On Tuesday, for example, a soldier assigned to the Army’s 13th Corps Support Command was killed and another was wounded when a roadside bomb struck their supply convoy near Qayarrah West Airfield in northern Iraq.
A Marine officer said Monday that 37 Marines and soldiers had been killed in the Fallujah offensive, plus one nonbattle death. He said 320 had been wounded. American estimates of the number of insurgents killed in the offensive range from about 1,000 to about 1,200.
An exact and fully current count of U.S. deaths is difficult to obtain because of time lags between the military’s initial reporting of attacks and the subsequent identification of the individual casualties.
As of Tuesday the Pentagon said 1,210 U.S. service members have died in Iraq since the conflict began 20 months ago. At the beginning of November the Pentagon count stood at 1,119, and it rose rapidly as the Fallujah fighting intensified and insurgents struck back in other cities and towns.
Because of the heavy fighting in Fallujah and the insurgents’ apparent attempts to respond with stepped-up attacks elsewhere, this month also is seeing one of the highest wounded totals. The number of wounded jumped by nearly 500 this week, according to Pentagon figures released Tuesday.
Since the start of the war, 8,956 U.S. service members have been wounded, of which nearly 5,000 were serious enough to prevent them from returning to duty. At the start of the month the total was 8,287.
Of the 91 or more U.S. deaths so far this month, it appears most were Marines. The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force led the charge into Fallujah and did much of the house-to-house fighting. Elements of the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division and 1st Infantry Division also participated, along with Air Force attack jets and gunships and several battalions of U.S.-trained Iraqi troops.
The Pentagon has not yet released names and service affiliation for all the casualties reported this month, so it is impossible to tally the exact number of Marines who’ve been killed. Of the first 68 deaths for which identifications were announced, 45 were Marines. Twenty-one were with the Army, and the Navy and Air Force each had one fatality.
The 48 Marine deaths, halfway through November, are the most for any full month during the war except for last April when the corps lost 52 Marines. None of the 48 Marines was older than 29, and most were in their early 20s. Six of the Marines were 19 years old.