As of Monday, Nov. 14, the total number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq since the start of U.S. operations to topple Saddam Hussein on March 19, 2003, was 2,106 according to official figures issued by the Department of Defense, a rise of 45 in 14 days.
Improvised explosive devices, or roadside bombs, continued to account for more than half the total casualties inflicted on U.S. troops -- an ominous indicator that the technical expertise of the insurgents is steadily advancing.
The rate of deaths showed a grim and consistent upturn on figures over the previous two weeks. The loss rate was just under 3.25 U.S. soldiers killed per day, a significant rise on the 2.4 killed per day during the previous 11 day period. But it was still much better than the figures in late October when 30 were killed during a five-day period, a rate of six per day.
However, the figures on U.S. soldiers being wounded in Iraq showed a very significant deterioration during the second half of November: The number of U.S. troops wounded in action from the beginning of hostilities on March 19, 2003, through Nov. 28, was 15,804, the Pentagon said.
This meant 236 U.S. troops were wounded in a 14 day period, an average of just below 17 per day. This was a very high rate of casualties suffered indeed, and more than twice the rate of just over eight per day in the previous 11-day period. It was even worse than the rate of 133 wounded in a nine-day period in late October, an average rate of just below 15 per day. However, it was still an almost 50-percent improvement upon the high rates of 30-plus per day injured during the Oct. 2- Oct. 16 period.
However, the rate of casualties inflicted upon the new Iraqi security forces continued to show a significant improvement. The scale of those casualties has now been falling since July.
According to the Iraq Index Project of the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, 103 Iraqi troops and police were killed in the 18 day period from Nov. 10 through Nov. 27, an average of well under six per day. This showed a slight improvement on the 45 Iraqi troops and police killed in the seven-day period from Nov. 3 through Nov. 9, an average of just below 6.5 per day. And it remained higher than the 34 Iraqi troops and police killed in the previous seven-day period from Oct. 27 to Nov. 2, an average of just below five per day. However, it was a marked improvement over the rate of just under eight per day at which they were killed from Oct. 2 through Oct. 16.
The total number of Iraqi police and military killed from June 1, 2003, to Nov. 2, 2005, was 3,657, according to the Iraq Index Project figures.
But this meant that the total death toll for Iraq security forces in the first 27 days of November was 157. Although still bad in absolute terms, this average, if maintained to the end of the month, would be a striking improvement of around 33 percent, or one-third, on the 215 killed in October and the 233 killed in September.
It looks likely to confirm November as seeing the lowest casualties inflicted on the Iraqi security forces since February when 103 were killed -- an improvement that could be of real strategic as well as symbolic significance. For casualties suffered by the Iraqi forces have now been falling every month since they peaked at 304 killed in July.
On the other hand, the statistics on car and truck bombs -- grimly referred to as multiple fatality bombings, or MFBs -- continue to climb.
In all, 40 of these attacks have been recorded so far in November up to Nov. 27, making this month the second worst so far in the whole insurgency. Only September was worse, with 46 of them. Up to Nov. 27, MFBs had killed 401 people and wounded 519 more in less than four weeks. This marked a significant deterioration on the 310 killed and 415 wounded by them in October, according to the Iraq Index Project figures.
The casualties are even worse when it is recognized that MFB statistics do not include killed and injured in bombings where less than three people were killed.
So far, according to the IIP figures,, 4,871 people have been killed in MFB attacks since the start of the insurgency and another 9,928 wounded.
The Iraq Index Project also notes that the U.S. estimates of the number of is urgency combatants killed remains very rough and approximate. The estimates are rounded off at 3,000 per month for the three months of August, September and October.
There is good reason to greatly look at the the accuracy of these estimates: If correct they would mean that the insurgency lost 9,000 troops in only three months when other U.S. military estimates have calculated that there are never more than 20,000 insurgents active at any one time.
Those figures, therefore, would if true mean that the insurgency had lost almost 50 percent of its active and experienced manpower in less than three months, a rate of attrition that has only been seen historically in the closing stages of counter-insurgency operations when the guerrilla movement is literally disintegrated and rapidly losing its ability to inflict casualties. There has been no sign whatsoever of that process so far in Iraq.
(From this week, UPI's weekly Iraq Benchmarks analysis column will be published on Mondays, not Fridays.)