8, 2004 | During August, Iraqi insurgents proved
themselves more capable of inflicting casualties
on American troops than ever before. Sixty-six
American soldiers were killed and more than 1,100
were wounded, according to information released
by the Department of Defense. But even with extensive
coverage of the intense conflict in Najaf last
month, the U.S. media was relatively quiet about
the cost of battle to U.S. soldiers.
cost has been steadily rising for months, says
John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a think
tank in Washington specializing in military and
international security issues. "The amount of
combat that U.S. soldiers are seeing is going
up, but the amount of combat the American public
is seeing is going down," he says. "Iraq has almost
turned into the forgotten war -- it's just faded
into the background."
news on Tuesday of crossing the 1,000 marker for
U.S. fatalities in Iraq has brought the conflict
back into the headlines, at least temporarily.
But since the transfer of power to Ayad Allawi's
interim Iraqi government in June, deaths and casualties
have risen every month: August was the bloodiest
month in the conflict so far. A week into September,
the situation looks no calmer; at least 14 soldiers
have died in the last three days.
steady rise in U.S. casualties can't be helpful
to Bush's reelection campaign -- which continues
to stick to its message that the overall situation
in Iraq is improving -- and could have an impact
on the homestretch of the election. To that end,
Pike believes that Donald Rumsfeld's Department
of Defense is being "economical with the truth"
in order to downplay the increasing casualties.
"The numbers they release are the smallest possible
numbers that cover the most restricted possible
definition," he says. "And they are being released
as late as possible."
reached Pike by phone on Tuesday at his office
is Global Security's assessment of the rate of
U.S. casualties in Iraq during August?
our calculation, it was the bloodiest month of
the war. And as for why, well, the short answer
is that we just don't know. CENTCOM presumably
has a much better idea, but Secretary Rumsfeld
only addressed it in very general terms on Tuesday.
It appears that a significant chunk of the casualties
were from the siege in Najaf, where the enemy
were firing mortar rounds at our troops, who were
out in the open. The theory is that the shrapnel
from those mortar rounds would produce a lot of
wounds, but relatively fewer fatalities.
think that this substantial increase in the number
of battle injuries is really indicative of how
intense the siege of Najaf was.
media was largely focused on Najaf, but wasn't
the fighting more widespread?
things have since cooled down in Najaf, but yes,
they've been heating up pretty good in other locations.
Now Sadr City is looking bad. And the Marines
in Fallujah are really hurting again. They had
a bad day [Tuesday] in Fallujah with another suicide
do you think the impact will be of the news that
more than 1,000 American soldiers have now died
think it will refocus public attention on the
costs of the war, and I hope it will refocus public
attention on what can be done over the longer
run to reduce this cost to Americans. Because
the war has really receded in the mass media.
The amount of coverage of the war has gone way
down in the last several months.
amount of combat that the soldiers are seeing
is going up, but the amount of combat the American
public is seeing is going down. Iraq has almost
turned into the forgotten war -- it's just faded
into the background.
new report predicts an even worse month for casualties
there's been an upward trend in American deaths
in Iraq for each of the last three months; each
one's been worse that the previous one. And it
looks like September's going to be worse that
August. The battle injuries were really bad last
month, and it may get worse before it gets better.
projecting what the number of fatalities for the
month of September will be based on what we've
seen to date. And as of today, the 7th, we've
already had 23 deaths this month. If the rest
of the month looks like the first week, then it
looks like we'll have as many as 100 dead this
month, making it the second worst month of the
your view of how the Bush administration is currently
handling the situation in Iraq?
of course the administration is going to try to
highlight the good news that is coming out of
Iraq. The good news is that they are starting
to spend reconstruction money, that they are equipping
Iraqi forces, and that those Iraqi forces are
standing up. More and more Iraqi troops are fighting
for their own country so that we don't have to
do it for them.
are they being forthright about the rate of U.S.
think if you look at the information being released,
you can see all types of information not being
covered. The Army gives out casualty evacuation
numbers; the Marine Corps does not. And there's
very little information being given out on combat
stress casualties. The Army gives out information
on how many psychiatric evaluations they've had
from the war theater, but some significant multiple
of that number must be in the combat stress care
system in the theater. But they'd only evacuate
somebody due to combat stress if all else failed.
So we're getting an extremely incomplete portrait
of what the human cost to American soldiers has
been. Why has it been so difficult to get good
they're not releasing [clear numbers]. They can
choose what information they release and what
information they withhold. And I think it would
be in their interest to minimize the amount of
information they are releasing, because otherwise
it would be bad for troop morale, it would be
bad for morale with the troops' families -- and
it would be bad for the morale of the American
might also be bad, of course, for the president's
reelection efforts. I've gotten some e-mail from
people who support the president's reelection
who accused me of drawing attention to this number
in order to hurt the president's chances. They
felt I came up with the wrong answer.
I think that the Department of Defense is being
economical with the truth. The numbers they release
are the smallest possible numbers that cover the
most restricted possible definition, and they
are being released as late as possible. So I think
they're telling us the truth, but I think they
are very far from telling us the whole truth.
a high number of U.S. casualties occurred in Najaf
in August, the Pentagon news releases suggest
that there were significant casualties in other
regions as well. What does that tell us?
hard to assess. The problem that you've got with
al Anbar [the region including the notorious Sunni
Triangle] is that it's Marine territory, and the
Marines aren't going to tell you squat. The Army
is a fountain of data compared to the Marines.
And if you look at an Army death announcement,
they'll tell you what unit the deceased was associated
with, where it happened, when it happened, and
how it happened. The Marine death announcement
is that a Marine attached to "First Mar. Div"
was killed as a result of enemy action in al Anbar
province. Period. That's all they're going to
tell you. That one of their Marines got killed.
And that's it. And if you look at the evacuation
numbers, the evacuation numbers are just for Army.
The Marines won't release anything like that.
else do you see that's wrong with the U.S. military's
system of accounting for casualties?
one's really bothered to ask whether U.S. soldiers
have died after they are evacuated. No one's ever
asked that question, or at least, no one's ever
gotten a straight answer for that question.
talked to another reporter who covers the Marines
earlier today, and he said that the Marines just
won't talk about it. They just will not answer
the question. "No comment" is all they'll say.
When asked why they're not releasing medical evacuation
numbers, they say "because we're not."
did you come up with your report?
we compile the information that the Defense Department
releases. Their news releases announce the name
of somebody who has been killed or died in Iraq.
Central Command or the Marines will put out a
news release when someone has died, but before
they have been named. The Washington headquarters
service at the Pentagon puts out monthly summary
statistics. We compile those. The Army surgeon
general puts out statistics on medical evacuees,
and we compile those.
are simply attempting to compile in one place
all of the numbers and information that the military
is putting out. We can see all of the different
places where their numbers don't quite fit together.
We can see all of the different places where one
agency is giving out one set of numbers, and another
agency is giving out a different set of numbers
with a different definition. The picture they
present is incomplete, and at times, difficult
are a dozen deaths from April that still need
to be cleared up.
presidential election is two months away. How
much is partisanship a factor here?
are you suggesting that there's politics in Washington?
is an inherently political undertaking, and politicians
are the ones responsible for managing that undertaking.
And they have to take into account what the American
people will think of their stewardship of that
responsibility. And I think the fact that we're
coming up on one of the most hotly contested presidential
elections in living memory has certainly sharpened
everyone's focus on this.
Posted: September 15, 2004