San Diego Union Tribune

November 1, 2006

Marines, Navy suffer highest combat casualties in two years

 WASHINGTON – Although much of the focus on U.S. causalities in Iraq during October was on the Army's deadly struggle in Baghdad, an expanded effort to quell the persistent insurgency in Anbar province produced the highest combat losses for Marines and sailors since the second bloody assault on Fallujah nearly two years ago.

At least 36 Marines and sailors died in Iraq's large western province in October, based on casualties reported as of Wednesday. All but two of those losses were the result of enemy action. The number of wounded could not be determined, but that total usually is more than eight times the number of combat deaths.


The October total for the two naval services is nearly double the monthly average for the rest of 2006.

The Marine Corps and Navy losses helped to drive the total October death toll for U.S. forces in Iraq to at least 104, the fourth-worst month since the conflict began in March 2003.

The top spokesman for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, which commands all the U.S. forces in Anbar, said a principal factor in the high number of causalities was “a greater presence throughout our area of operations.”

“We are in more towns, and we are clearing and holding parts of Ramadi and other cities where we haven't been before,” Lt. Col. Bryan Salas said.

Ramadi is the second largest city in Anbar and has been another area of chronic opposition to U.S. and Iraqi security forces.

The death of 34 Marines and two sailors last month was the worst loss for the naval services in Iraq since 52 died in January 2005. But that month's toll was driven up by the loss of 32 in a deadly helicopter accident.

The deadliest month in Iraq for the two services was November 2004, when a total of 85 Marines and sailors died. All but four of those deaths were from combat during the “Al Fajr” offensive to crush the violent combination of Iraqi Sunni insurgents and foreign fighters in Fallujah.

October's toll brings the total of Marine Corps and Navy deaths in Iraq to at least 836, out of a total of 2,814 U.S. deaths reported as of Wednesday. Early this year, a U.S. military spokesman in Iraq said control of Anbar “had tilted toward” the Iraqi government.

But in September, the Washington Post reported that an analysis by 1st MEF's top intelligence officer concluded that the prospects for securing Anbar by military means were “dim” and there was “almost nothing the U.S. military could do to improve political and social conditions.”

Maj. Gen. Richard Zilmer, commander of 1st MEF in Iraq, and Pentagon officials disputed the Post's view of that analysis, saying it over-simplified a complicated situation.

Salas noted that Iraqi army units have been taking control of a number of cities and areas, including Habbaniyah and “all but the center of Fallujah.” The 7th Iraqi Army division “continues to partner with coalition units in Ramadi and in the western Euphrates River valley,” he said.

“This, combined with the expected Ramadan spike in enemy activity, has resulted in more casualties,” Salas said in an e-mail reply to questions.

Salas also noted there had been “a spike in enemy causalities as we expected the seasonal surge and were prepared to meet and defeat it.”

He said the enemy “attempted to attack coalition outposts, increase the use of suicide bombers and lay improvised explosive devices.”

Although some of the Army forces that had been in Anbar were moved to beef up the effort to stop the increasingly deadly sectarian violence in Baghdad, Salas said, “there is nothing to indicate that the required troop increase for the Baghdad operations resulted in the increased casualties here.”