- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 31, 2006

REUTERS NEWS AGENCY

The death toll among U.S. troops in Iraq dropped to average levels in December andlast month after a bloody autumn, and U.S. officials said yesterday that insurgent attacks have been waning since October.

The number of attacks conducted by insurgents has dwindled from more than 700 per week in the first week of October, just before the Oct. 15 referendum on a new Iraqi constitution, to the current level of about 430 per week, said Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad.

This counts all attacks against U.S. and other foreign troops, Iraqi government security forces, civilians and infrastructure targets, Col. Johnson said. Attacks that cause damage or casualties are considered “effective.”

“They’ve had a fairly consistent effectiveness rate of about 24 percent throughout that period,” he said.

U.S. military deaths in Iraq have averaged 65 per month since the war began in March 2003. The death toll was 68 in December and at least 63 in January. This came after two of the deadliest months of the war for the U.S. military, with 96 deaths in October and 84 in November.

“We’ve seen these cycles of ebb and flow half a dozen times or more since the war began. One can hope that this is a permanent decline, but it’s still much too early to reach that conclusion,” said defense analyst Ted Carpenter of the Cato Institute think tank.

There have been 2,242 U.S. military deaths in the war, according to Pentagon figures released yesterday. Another 16,606 U.S. troops have been wounded in combat, 7,683 of whom were too badly hurt to return to duty, the Pentagon said.

Col. Johnson attributed the decline in attacks in part to recent operations by U.S. and Iraqi security forces in western Iraq and in the Baghdad area that “were very effective in disrupting terrorist and insurgent activity.”

Iraqi leaders are in the sensitive process of forming a permanent government after parliamentary elections Dec. 15.

“As we continue to progress and as the new government gets settled in, I think we’re in a position for this trend to continue. But whether that will be the case, who knows?” Col. Johnson said.

The United States has 138,000 troops in Iraq, down from a peak of 161,000 in October and nearly that level in December, the Pentagon said. There also are about 227,000 U.S.-trained Iraqi security personnel, as well as 20,000 British, South Korean, Italian, Polish and other foreign troops in Iraq, the Pentagon said.

Roadside bombs known by the military as improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, remain the weapon of choice for insurgents, Col. Johnson said.

IEDs are the top cause of death and injury for U.S. troops in Iraq, often exploding under passing vehicle convoys. The Pentagon said more than half of all U.S. casualties stem from these homemade bombs, often buried along a road or hidden inside debris or even carcasses and usually detonated by remote control or with a timer.

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