Why American Casualties are Higher

StrategyPage: Why American Casualties are Higher

So far in April, 99 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq. There are three reasons for that high number of combat losses.

First, the it̢۪s no longer a wartime situation. This means American troops don̢۪t go charging towards objectives in large numbers, with artillery and bombers ready to obliterate any opposition. In this wartime mode, American troops moved fast and shot frequently at any sign of resistance. A year later, most of the firepower is gone, and the troops move more slowly to avoid civilian casualties.

The Rules of Engagement (ROE) U.S. troops operate by put great emphasis on avoiding civilian casualties. While the ROE put the lives of U.S. troops first, the need to be more careful slows things down in a way that makes American troops more vulnerable.

Lastly, the Iraqis, like the Afghans in 2001, quickly learned how to cope with some of the American battlefield advantages. In particular, the Iraqis learned to exploit the ROE. This meant setting up combat bases in mosques and moving and firing while surrounded by women and children. The civilians usually were not volunteers for this duty, but Iraqis with guns tend to get their way with other Iraqis.

These are all points worth remembering. Of course, they are all part and parcel of fighting this type of war against this type of enemy. Indeed, this is one of the few ways in which this conflict actually is like Vietnam.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mark J says:

    Very good points. One could even say that more Americans are dying because we have such a respect for the lives of innocents.

    But if anyone uses the Q word, I’m gonna flip out. 😉

  2. Hal says:

    Or you could say that more Americans are dying because of the complete lack of any realistic post war planning. Or you could say that more Americans are dying because of the complete lack of any internationalization.

  3. Jeremiah says:

    Or you could say that Hal completely missed the point of this post.

  4. Boyd says:

    Yes, you could say that, Hal, but you’d be mistaken. You speak as though soldiers and marines are wandering the streets and countryside of Iraq, with no plan or guidance because of “the President’s complete incompetence.”

    Either the insurgency is generically a tough nut to crack, or the military leaders are incompetent at their jobs. The generals and admirals are supposed to keep their troops alive. The president, any president, has little to do with that.

    If you have any military experience, Hal, then it appears you didn’t gain much knowledge from it. If you haven’t been in the military, you’re talking about something you’ve got no clue about.

  5. Mark J says:

    Setting: Kabul, Iraq

    As PFC Bailey and PFC Johnson attempt to rejoin their unit, a bullet whizzes by their heads.

    “Get down! Get down!” shouts Johnson. The marines drop to the sand and crawl to the nearest cover, a empty steel drum. “There!” exclaims Bailey, “in that window to the right.” Reaching for a frag grenade, Bailey is stopped by Johnson’s hand. “What are you doing?” Johnson asks him. “There could be innocent civilians held hostage in there.” After pausing… Bailey agrees, “yeah, you’re right… we’d better call the president, warm up the satellite phone.”

    “Got a signal… hello? Mr. President… PFC Johnson here. We’re pinned down outside of Kabul, and have 2 or 3 bogeys in a building. They could have hostages inside… yes… I understand sir, thank you.”

    No sooner had Johnson hung up the phone than a bullet struck him in the arm, which started bleeding excessively. “Dammit! We’re screwed now! The President told us to sit here and wait for them to leave… he’s a freakin’ idiot!” screams Johnson, wincing from the pain.

    Yeah. Right.