Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Parsing the Numbers

This article, written by Nancy Youssef of McClatchy:

Combat deaths in Iraq decline; reasons aren't clear
By Nancy A. Youssef | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — American combat deaths in Iraq have dropped by half in the three months since the buildup of 28,000 additional U.S. troops reached full strength, surprising analysts and dividing them as to why.

U.S. officials had predicted that the increase would lead to higher American casualties as the troops "took the fight to the enemy." But that hasn't happened, even though U.S. forces have launched major offensives involving thousands of troops north and south of Baghdad.

American combat casualties have dropped to their lowest levels this year, even as violence involving Iraqis remains high.

has been hailed by war supporters as a sign that "The Surge" is working. The gist is that additional U.S. troops around Baghdad and in Anbar Province have killed or chased away all the Al Qaeda fighters, which is why combat deaths are down, and also proves that "The Surge" is a success.
In fact, there have been some much-heralded spikes in combat deaths as Americans engaged. But the turning of the tribes, a revolt that continues to spread, has dramatically cut violence in ways that were not anticipated when the surge was first announced. Combat operations north and south of the city have been highly successful. Al Qaeda operations in key areas have been terminated, and leadership has fled, attempting to spark bloodshed elsewhere.

QandO tells us that the drop in American combat deaths was achieved by planning, experience, intelligence, and that "clear and hold" strategy.

Sister Toldjah mentions that some people are questioning the numbers [emphasis mine]:
Of course, the comments section of that article is filled with “progressives” downplaying the news as “spin,” with several armchair experts pointing to this site or that one supposedly showing the ‘real’ numbers. Why, it’s almost like they’re disappointed that troop deaths are down … perhaps because the less [sic] troop deaths in Iraq, the less [sic] number of men and women in the military they can use in their pathetic little anti-war campaign against the Bush administration?

Of course, far be it from ST to actually take a look at what the "armchair experts" are talking about and try to develop some kind of an intelligent rebuttal.

As it turns out, "this site or that one" is, a highly respected resource that both the right and the left rely on for accurate and up-to-the-minute casualty numbers. And a lot of people have been looking at it and noticing that the numbers don't match up with the numbers quoted in the McClatchy piece. The reason seems to be how the military defines "combat deaths." For example, the military counts helicopter and vehicle crashes as "non-hostile," or non-combat, deaths. Suicides, which as we know are sharply up in Iraq, are counted as non-combat deaths. If we return to those "armchair experts," we will find a wealth of information and some very good questions:

how many non-hostile deaths during times of peace came from helicopter crashes, humvee crashes, and suicide which is what is included in these non-hostile deaths in iraq? We already know the suicide rate is way up.

After reviewing some of the intervening comments, I've discovered since submitting a couple of postings earlier today that the graph in this article is for only those deaths which are designated as combat-related.

Although Ms. Youssef's purpose may have been to write a cheerleading piece for the White House, she does not appear to have checked her numbers carefully enough. If you access the table for combat versus non-combat deaths, you'll find that the drop down menu indicates "All countries", which appears to provide the basis for the numbers in the table above. The other choice listed on the drop down menu is labeled, "U. S. Only." Even though the table for this article is designated as "U. S. Combat Deaths", it appears that she, instead, used the table to "All countries", which would presumably include combat deaths for others who are among the so-called "coalition of the willing."

The site also lists twenty-six members of the U. S. military who died for "non-hostile" reasons in August, 2007 (the highest monthly total in more than 2 1/2 years), which would presumably include the sixteen (or perhaps nineteen, as stated in an earlier post) who perished when a helicopter (or helicopters) crashed. So what are the odds that these individuals would have died in a helicopter crash if they were not part of an occupation force? Regardless of the label applied to the cause of death, the loss to the family and loved ones is no less painful.

In a situation where a member of the U. S military is severely wounded, but survives until they are evacuated from the country, landing at Landstuehl or Walter Reed, and then die from those injuries, are these deaths included in the figures? If not, we are being given misleading numbers.

True, combat deaths are different but let's not forget its' the Pentagon determination on what is hostile and what is not. In Nancy's words, "They only count those killed while carrying out a military mission." Well, that's not true. They don't even do that sometimes. By all accounts last August in northern Iraq two helicopters ***were on a night mission*** when one went down and 14 Americans died, but that was non-hostile according to the Pentagon. The most puzzling is the Pentagon claims 19 killed in helicopter ....ahem "incidents" last month. Did more than one helicopter go down last month?

tom traubert:
My point that you have not addressed is the misclassification of casualties. Several months ago, coinciding with "the surge", the Pentagon instituted new rules concerning the reporting of casualties, including discouraging the use of photographs. The new rules were detailed in the NYT and other places.

I contend that this article is misleading by, all of a sudden and without context, focusing on only certain types of deaths and using misleading graphics, in order to sell the idea that there is "good news" coming out of Iraq, when there is indisputable evidence that both American troop casualties and Iraqi deaths have not decreased but have increased.

We have seen this kind of dishonest news management before. I remember quite clearly back in 2003 CENTCOM only released numbers for "combat-related" deaths, and only since May 1 2003, which at the time were about 50 when the true number of deaths were over 100. (Long, long ago.) It appears that they are up to this propaganda-like news management once again, ahead of the White House Report on "progress" in Iraq.

The same reader also writes this a little further down:
There are NOT lower numbers of US casualties. US troops killed in Iraq are UP. [Youssef] is saying that fewer of those deaths are *classified as killed in combat,* and more of them are not classified as killed in combat. The overall numbers are increasing.

McClatchy and other US press are trying desperately to make you think there is "progress" when the number of Iraqi killed has gone up and the number of US killed has gone up. So they try to mislead you with articles and graphics like this one. Read carefully and you'll see.

Here's a better article about Iraqi civilian deaths:,1,5197236.story?coll=la-headlines-world&ctrack=4&cset=true

Here's a graphic of US fatalities by month:

There are many more, and all worth reading.

Also, check out Balloon Juice, where John Cole has deja vu all over again:
In the past, I, too, looked at our casualty rates as they seemed to decline, and hoped things were getting better. Here I was in February of 2005:
This month, there have been 18 coalition casualties, meaning that the Coalition of the Willing has suffered an average of 1.38 casualties a day. This is the lowest average since March of last year, and dramatically lower than the casualty rate from the previous six month. For some perspective, last month we lost an average of 4.1 soldiers per day, in December 2004 we lost 2.48, and in November we were averaging 4.7 fatalities per day.

And again, a month and a half later, I continued to be optimistic:
In the month of January, before the elections, the loss rate was 4.1 soldiers per day. Immediately after the election, in February, the rate dipped to 2.1 per day.

Currently, we are losing an average 1.2 soldiers per day to hostile and non-hostile casualties. The number of wounded appears to be declining as well.

Two and a half years later, and we are averaging double to triple that number. Clearly, we have turned another corner. Charles Bird tries to be upbeat with this data, but I do not share his optimism.

More commentary:

Comments from Left Field, Back Talk, Talking Points Memo, and Show Me Progress, which has a good round-up of yet more commentary.

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