Insomnia (insomnia) wrote,

DoD misinforms the public about "surge" casualty trends.

Remember that Bush said that "reducing the violence in Baghdad will help make reconciliation possible," and that  "America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced . . . To . . . pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis. . . . And to . . . reform de-Baathification laws, and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq's constitution." 

None of this has happened, of course, and the Sunnis have left the Iraqi government.

So, with the mission's objectives in a shambles, Is the Surge working in Iraq?  The U.S. military would have you believe so. 

"We've started to see a slow but gradual reduction in casualties, and it continues in July," Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno said on July 27th.

Hey... great news! But is it true?

The newspapers seem to think so, and picked up on the story bigtime, which was then parroted by the warblogging hopeful.

"U.S. Death Toll in Iraq in July Expected to Be Lowest in ’07" - New York Times
"U.S. Toll in Iraq Lowest in 8 Months" - Washington Post

Note that they made these claims before the month was even over and all the casualty figures for the month had been reported.

Well, it's now August 1st, and presumably most of the casualties for last month have been accounted for, plus or minus a few. (Several more were reported today.) So, how does July look? Icasualty currently reports 89 coalition deaths, which is the lowest total since March of this year. And while U.S. deaths are down in the north, the Surge has actually seem a month-to-month increase in deaths in the British-controlled south over the past three months.

...but hey, a reduction is a reduction, and that's good news, right?! Well, sure it is, if you can definitively point out an established trend of lower coalition casualties. But can you?!

Let's take a look at least month.
July 1-8: 32 casualties
July 9-16: 11 casualties
July 17-24: 31 casualties
July 25-31 16 casualties (One less day than the rest, assume another 3 deaths if you want to statistically account for this imbalance.)

Now, what does this chart show? A clear downward trend? Not really. Rather, it shows figures that jump around considerably from week to week.  Infact, more soldiers died in the last two weeks of July than in the first two weeks. There isn't any kind of obvious downturn you can point to within the month... so, how about a month-to-month trend?

Well, while casualties for July are lower than in the previous three months of surge operations, this is to be expected. Why?
Well, for that, you need to take a look at the monthly casualty totals for the entire invasion.

July 2003: 49 deaths
July 2004: 58 deaths
July 2005: 58 deaths
July 2006: 46 deaths
July 2007: 89 deaths

That's right. July's casualty count is nearly double what it was last year, and is higher than any previous year of the conflict.

But is the time of year really significant in casualty trends? Well, in Iraq, it appears to be.

Take a look at this:
May 2007   - 131 coalition deaths
June 2007 - 108 coalition deaths
July 2007   - 89 coalition deaths

and in 2006:
May 2006   - 79 coalition deaths
June 2006 - 63 coalition deaths
July 2006   - 46 coalition deaths

and in 2005:
May 2005   - 88 coalition deaths
June 2005 - 83 coalition deaths
July 2005   - 58 coalition deaths

and in 2004:
May 2004   - 84 coalition deaths
June 2004 - 50 coalition deaths
July 2004   - 58 coalition deaths

In other words, there appears to be a fairly established pattern in Iraq for a "spring offensive" that winds down in the summer months, as things get hotter and/or the offensive runs out of steam. In other words, it's entirely to be expected that casualties are down in July. Resistance hasn't decreased from traditional levels at all! 

Of course, the U.S. military would know that such a basic trend -- the Spring offensive -- exists in Iraq. It could even be that this trend is driven by their own actions during those months (i.e. increasing operations in Spring and decreasing them as it gets hotter.) They just aren't being honest about it right now, because they're trying to sell the war, rather than being fair and balanced, and letting the public make up their own minds on this important issue.  

Fact is, since the beginning of the war, July has *always* had a casualty level under the statistical average for that year. That's like flipping a coin five years in a row and always getting heads.... could there be a trend, perhaps?

Now, what the U.S. military can perhaps claim is that they're running more missions / a higher percentage of missions without casualties. This is most likely the case... but considering that many of the missions are designed to root out the enemy and force them to fight, it most likely could also be claimed that many of these missions are foiled, in that insurgents simply aren't taking the bait, or are fleeing beforehand. Of July's 89 KIAs, only 16 of them, or 18%, are attributable to direct fire, grenades, RPGs, or car bombs. Compare that to last July, where 18 out of 46 deaths, or 39%, are attributable to such causes.    

In short, the IED has become the insurgent's weapon of choice, as it usually allows them to avoid contact altogether. The U.S. are presumably running more missions, but appear to have less to show for them on average. Their efforts aren't even manifesting a clear reduction in civilian deaths, which went up 33% in July. And there is evidence suggesting that the insurgents are spreading the violence outside of the Baghdad region pretty successfully, killing Coalition soldiers at pretty much the kind of rate that you'd expect for a gradually escalating insurgency. 

That, in short, is what a non-skewed, informed reading of the casualty statistics truely indicate. That said, could coalition forces actually be accomplishing some things that may result in lower casualties longterm?  Perhaps.... but if so, there's is no compelling evidence to support it yet in KIA figures. 

But what about in wounded figures? Is the military seeing a reduction in the far larger number of wounded soldiers that is compelling evidence indicating that casualties are declining? Hardly. 

According to iCasualty's monthly statistics that they get from the DoD, the number of wounded soldiers has escalated consistantly, every month since "The Surge" began.

Feb. '07 - 517 wounded
Mar. '07 - 616 wounded
Apr. '07  - 647 wounded
May  '07 - 652 wounded
Jun  '07 -  713 wounded

In short, Lt. Gen. Odierno and the top brass of the U.S. military who have clear access to these statistics appear to be knowingly misrepresenting the facts, and are misleading the citizens of this country as to the effectiveness of current operations in Iraq. 

To the military's great discredit, ordinary U.S. citizens have become the intentional target of military propaganda, in order to help perpetuate the conflict. This kind of behavior, frankly, is a dangerous development, and a clear and present danger to the longterm safety and security of our democracy.

**UPDATE** - AmericanEntropy has done an interesting statistical analysis of casualty levels, using detailed graphs to point out exactly what I have noticed. 

His conclusions on the so-called downturn in casualties? 

"I believe that this dip in fatalities is attributable to more than just the Presidents surge. It is a combination of the new way forward and yearly cycles of activity. . . The trend remains very troubling. . . I hope that Odierno's vision bears fruit, but to be hyping this belief amounts to a "gut feeling" rather than a legitimate trend."


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