Fueled by fierce fighting in Fallujah and insurgents’ counterattacks elsewhere in Iraq, the U.S. military death toll for November equalled the highest for any month of the war, according to casualty reports available Tuesday.
At least 135 U.S. troops died in November. That is the same number as last April, when the insurgence flared in Fallujah and elsewhere in the so-called Sunni Triangle where U.S. forces and their Iraqi allies lost a large measure of control.
On Nov. 8, U.S. forces launched an offensive to retake Fallujah, and they have engaged in tough fighting in other cities since then. More than 50 U.S. troops have been killed in Fallujah since then, although the Pentagon has not provided a casualty count for Fallujah for more than a week.
From the viewpoint of the United States and Iraqis who are striving to restore stability, the casualty trend since the interim Iraqi government was put in power June 28 has been troubling. Each month’s death toll has been higher than the last, with the single exception of October, when it was 63.
The monthly totals grew from 42 in June to 54 in July to 65 in August and to 80 in September.
IED's causing most injuries, deaths
The Pentagon’s official death toll for Iraq, dating to the start of the war, stood at 1,254 on Tuesday. That total did not include an unidentified 1st Infantry Division soldier who died of wounds sustained in a roadside bomb attack late Monday night near the town of Alazu.
On Nov. 1 the official death toll stood at 1,121. It was not clear whether the bombing deaths of two Marines south of Baghdad on Sunday were included in the overall count the Pentagon published Monday.
Combat injuries increased in November due to the fierce fighting in Fallujah. Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington reported Monday that it received 32 additional battle casualties from Iraq over the past two weeks. One was in critical condition. All 32 had been treated earlier at the Army’s largest hospital in Europe, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.
Some of the most severe injuries — and many of the deaths — among U.S. troops in Iraq are inflicted by the insurgents’ homemade bombs, which the military calls improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.
U.S. forces have put extraordinary effort into countering the IED threat, yet it persists. U.S. troops in Fallujah reported finding nearly as many homemade explosives over the past three weeks as had been uncovered throughout Iraq in the previous four months combined.
In recent action in Fallujah, troops found at least 650 homemade bombs, Bryan Whitman, a spokesman for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, said Monday. That compares with 722 found throughout the country between July 1 and October 31.
The IEDs are rigged to detonate by remote control and often are hidden along roadways used by U.S. forces, to deadly effect.
Since U.S. forces invaded Fallujah on Nov. 8 to regain control, they have found about a dozen IED “factories,” a number of vehicles being modified to serve as car bombs, and at least 10 surface-to-air missiles capable of downing aircraft, Whitman said.
More than half of the approximately 100 mosques in Fallujah were used as fighting positions or weapon storage sites, Whitman said, citing a U.S. military report that has not been released publicly.
U.S. officials knew insurgents had used Fallujah as a haven from which to plan and organize resources for attacks in Baghdad and other cities in the Sunni Triangle north and west of the capital, but the amount of weapons found exceeded expectations.
Rumsfeld told a Pentagon news conference last Tuesday that the kinds and amount of weapons found in Fallujah indicated the insurgents pose a serious and continuing threat.
“No doubt attacks will continue in the weeks and months ahead, and perhaps intensify as the Iraqi election approaches,” Rumsfeld said, referring to national elections scheduled for Jan. 30.
Whitman said other discoveries in Fallujah include:
- Plastic explosives and TNT.
- A hand-held Global Positioning System receiver for use in navigation.
- Makeshift shoulder-fired rocket launchers, rocket-propelled grenades, 122mm rockets and thousands of mortar rounds.
- An anti-aircraft artillery gun.
- More than 200 major weapons storage areas.