USAT Notices Low October Iraq Troop Deaths, But Obscures Overall WOT Improvement

Give them credit for noticing. Pass out demerits for incompleteness.

Friday's USA Today carried a slightly inaccurate Page 1A tease ("Iraq is safer for US troops; October is on track to tie July for the month with fewest combat deaths"). It went to a top of Page 7A story ("US Deaths in Iraq on track for record low") that noticed how relatively well the month of October has gone for our troops in Iraq. That still is the case, with hours to go in the calendar month in Iraq. Reporter Charles Levinson even noticed that there have been no hostile US troop deaths in Baghdad during the entire month.

But Levinson missed the opportunity to notice even better longer-term results in Iraq. He also failed to notice that coalition troop deaths in Afghanistan, again with hours to go until the end of the month, are less than half of that seen in previous months. Finally, he didn't catch this remarakable fact, given the gloom that seems to abound over the supposedly intractable situation in Afghanistan -- Combined theater troop deaths in October have been the lowest in over four years. (Straight zeroes everywhere would, of course, be ideal.)

Here are the key paragraphs from Levinson's report:

October could be the first month of the Iraq war when no U.S. servicemembers will have died in combat in Baghdad.

As of Thursday, the Pentagon had reported 13 U.S. troops killed in combat and non-combat incidents this month in Iraq. If the number holds, it would tie July for the lowest monthly U.S. death toll of the 5½-year-old war.

Security has improved in the Iraqi capital and elsewhere thanks to truces by sectarian militias, more effective U.S. counterinsurgency strategies, and a dramatic increase in the size and effectiveness of Iraqi forces.

..... Militant groups such as al-Qaeda have shifted their base to Afghanistan, where U.S. fatalities in October were higher than those in Iraq for the second consecutive month.

Fifteen U.S. troops had died in Afghanistan in October, as of Thursday, all from enemy fire. There are about one-third as many U.S. troops in Afghanistan as in Iraq.

The following charts will illustrate the points I made in the first paragraph.

If no more US troop deaths occur in the next few hours, October's result in Iraq will indeed match July's low. But regardless of how the next few hours go, the six-month result will come in much, much lower:

 IraqTroopDeathsTotal1Mo6Mo1008

As to deaths from hostile action in Iraq, October appears poised to come in at an alltime low, as do the totals for the past two and six months:

IraqTroopDeathsHostile1Mo2Mo6Mo1008

And even though the coalition death toll in Afghanistan tragically increased to 18 after Levinson's report, it appears that October will have been the safest month overall for a US soldier to have been involved in the War on Terror in over four years (cue the lefty "Iraq isn't part of the War on Terror" whine):

IraqAndAfghanTroopDeaths1008.jpg

Nonetheless, give USAT and Levinson some props for giving the story a reasonable amount of prominence. I suspect we won't see much coverage anywhere else, as there is more than likely near-zero interest in seeing yet further validation that John McCain was right, and Barack Obama wrong, about supporting General David Petraeus's troop surge strategy.
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.