The month of October was one of the deadliest for U.S. troops in Iraq, with a total of 93 killed in both combat and non-combat incidents. On Tuesday, the top U.S. general said he was not surprised by the high death toll because increased insurgent activity had been expected around the time of the constitutional referendum.
October was a month of almost daily announcements from the Defense Department about the deaths of U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in Iraq.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, said Tuesday he was not surprised by the high casualty rate in October, and that it mirrored high casualties suffered the last time Iraqis went to the polls.
"It's understandable that the two months that have had the highest casualties were last January and this October," he said. "Both were election months in Iraq. Both saw coalition forces and U.S. forces at increased levels of individuals on the ground. And as we projected would happen, the insurgents were trying to divert the Iraqi people, prevent them from participating in a political process. So it did not surprise us that we had more attacks."
General Pace says the insurgents realize that every time the Iraqi people vote, they are rejecting the future the insurgents want to impose on them. Iraqis are scheduled to go to the polls again next month to elect a new government under the constitution that passed in October, and again officials say there will be an increase in the number of U.S. and other coalition troops in Iraq to help provide security for the election.
Most of the U.S. casualties in Iraq are caused by roadside bombs, what the military calls improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. At a news conference on Tuesday, General Pace declined to provide any details on what the U.S. military is doing to defeat the roadside bombs. But he explained their continued effectiveness by citing the large amount of explosive material available in Iraq.
"Between the increase in armor and the changes in tactics, techniques and procedures that we've employed, the numbers of attacks, IED attacks, that have been effective has gone down, and the number of casualties per effective attack has gone down," he said. "That said, there are more overall IED attacks by insurgents and we are working on that problem."
Other officials have reported an increase in the sophistication of the bombs, using what are called 'shaped charges,' that are more effective at piercing the increased armor protecting U.S. forces. The U.S. military is responding with a variety of efforts including increased intelligence gathering, better training and electronic transmissions designed to block detonation signals for the bombs.
But U.S. officials acknowledge that the insurgents are adapting to each counter-measure. They say the effort to defeat the insurgency will continue, but that ultimately it will be the Iraqi people who end it by depriving it of support as the new Iraqi political process takes hold.