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U.S. death toll in Iraq surges amid rebel violence

Reuters | May 31, 2005
By Will Dunham

The death toll for American troops in Iraq rose in May to the highest level since January, with the U.S. military saying on Tuesday insurgents have doubled their number of daily attacks since April.

This latest spree of violence by insurgents, who rose up after the American-led invasion in 2003 toppled President Saddam Hussein, put a dramatic end to a period when attacks on U.S. forces had waned after the historic Jan. 30 elections.

At least 77 U.S. troops were killed in May, according to a count of deaths announced by the military. That is the highest toll since 107 Americans were killed in January. It marked the second straight monthly increase since 36 U.S. troops died in March, among the lowest tolls of the war.

Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said insurgents are staging about 70 attacks nationwide per day.

"There was a lull in attacks after the elections," Boylan said.

"There was a period of time right after the election until the beginning of April or middle of April that we actually saw them (daily rebel attacks) dip into the low 30s."

The latest Pentagon figures listed 1,658 U.S. military deaths since the war began, with another 12,630 wounded in combat. The United States has 139,000 troops in Iraq, with another 23,000 British and other foreign soldiers.

In the recent spike in violence, insurgents also have aggressively targeted Iraqi security forces and civilians. Boylan said more than 600 Iraqis were killed or wounded in May.

Boylan attributed the rise in U.S. deaths in May to several factors.

May was a record month for car bombs used by insurgents in suicide attacks and with remote-controlled detonations, he said. Boylan added U.S. forces suffered losses in offensives against the rebels such as Operation New Market in the western town of Haditha and Operation Matador around the western town of Qaim, close to the Syrian border.

'DON'T KNOW'

Asked if the insurgents, a mix of indigenous Sunni Muslim Arabs and foreign radical Islamic fighters, could sustain the current level of violence, Boylan said, "Don't know yet."

Defense analysts said the recent violence was the latest evidence Iraq remains an uncertain project for America.

"Those who believed that the elections would be a decisive turning point undermining the insurgency are disappointed yet again," Cato Institute defense analyst Ted Carpenter said. "The insurgency seems as capable as ever."

U.S. generals in the weeks after the election had talked about a possible serious reduction in U.S. troop levels next year.

Gen. George Casey, top U.S. commander in Iraq, has not completed his assessment of future troop levels, Boylan said, adding that the level of violence and the capabilities of U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces would be crucial factors.

"The reality is we have discovered, despite all our propaganda, that we are facing a very tough, resilient and smart adversary," defense analyst Daniel Goure of the Lexington Institute said.

Goure said rebels have continuously changed, updated and modified tactics, dumping those that no longer worked. Goure also faulted U.S. forces for being slow to cut off the supply of bullets, bombs, money and recruits coming over the border from Syria.

"I think we are in there at least for the next five years in significant numbers," Goure said.

Boylan preached patience.

"This is the hardest type of fight to be in," Boylan said. "If we get too impatient and decide to throw in the towel too soon, then we give up everything we've gained up to this point."

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