San Diego Union Tribune

May 4, 2004

Marine, sailor deaths since March more than in war's first 6 months


WASHINGTON When the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force took over Anbar province of Iraq in March, its commanders hoped they primarily would be conducting a reconstruction effort for grateful Iraqis.

With two combat deaths Saturday and one yesterday, 59 Marines and one Navy corpsman from the 1st MEF have died from hostile action, mainly in Fallujah and Ramadi.

That is two more combat deaths suffered in six weeks by the 25,000 Marines and sailors now in Iraq than the Marine force of more than 60,000 incurred in six months of combat and stabilization efforts last year.

Military analysts say the high casualty rate demonstrates the danger of urban combat and the fact that the U.S. military's power is not as effective in this type of unconventional war as it was in last year's more traditional combat.

In the major combat phase last year, the U.S. forces tried to bypass the cities until they got to Baghdad, noted Robert Work, a retired Marine colonel who is now an analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary. "Now the Marines are in the city day after day."

That means "tough fighting," Work said.

Daniel Goure, a national security analyst at the Lexington Institute, said the recent casualties demonstrate that "the U.S. does not enjoy the same advantage in unconventional war as it does in conventional conflict," where its superior intelligence and air power can be employed.

Goure said the Marines also are suffering because the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, which was responsible for Anbar before the 1st MEF, "didn't do a very good job out there. They didn't establish authority. . . . When you lose control of things, people die."

Some analysts, including Goure, believe the Army should have gone into Fallujah in force last year. The 82nd made one incursion into the city, but withdrew after a bloody clash that killed perhaps 20 Iraqis.

Jay Farrar, a former Marine officer now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, noted that the Marines were surprised by the resistance. They "thought the citizens would be glad to see them and they would be able to do good."

Farrar noted, "This is full-blown combat. Those guys know that now."

On March 18, a day before the Marines assumed control of Anbar province, three Marines were killed in attacks.

The attacks and the casualties leaped in April, when 49 Marines and a corpsman died in what turned out to be the deadliest month for the entire U.S. involvement in Iraq.

The hardest-hit Marine unit was the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, which lost 15 men, 12 of them in two days in April.

The 4th Marines normally are based on Okinawa.