Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Have We Won?

This is good news:

At least 34 American service members have died so far in October, nearly a third from non-combat causes.

It is the lowest number since 32 troops died in March 2006 and the second-lowest since 20 troop deaths in February 2004, according to an Associated Press count based on military figures.

That would be the second consecutive drop in monthly figures, after 65 Americans died in September and 84 in August.

And while long-term trends have our noncombat casualties at about 20%, it is amazing that fewer than one troop per day is being killed in combat.

I'm hardly ready to declare victory from this trend since in March 2006, our casualties had declined from each of the previous 5 months. But back then, unknown to me, we were pulling back from combat so declines in casualties were from force protection and lack of combat. Now we are still out in the field more exposed (and effective) than ever. Thus dropping casualties represents a less effective enemy rather than lack of contact from pulling back to bases.

Civilian deaths are dropping, too, according to the article:

The current pace of civilian deaths also would put October at less than 900. The figure last month was 1,023 and for August, 1,956, according to figures compiled by the AP from hospital, police and military officials, as well as accounts from reporters and photographers. Insurgent deaths are not included. Other counts differ and some have given higher civilian death tolls.

Suspected Sunni and Shiite extremists appear to have stepped up attacks in recent weeks, however.

I'm on record as saying that the proper metric for determining the success of the surge is not civilian casualties. I've written that casualties will decline finally after we win the war. Surrendering jihadis is probably a better metric.

So is the decline in civilian casualties a sign we've won and the enemy is in permanent disarray and retreat?

Two months ago I wasn't ready to declare victory. Despite two more months of good trends, I'll wait before I'm bold enough to assume we are seeing victory rather than just a solid trend toward victory.

UPDATE: This article confirms the basis for my qualified optimism that current US casualty trends are based on defeating the enemy:

What makes it significant is that US forces in Iraq are still conducting operations, not "hunkering down" in the relative security of the many sprawling US bases.

We still need to pursue the enemy while they are weakened. Remember that the Taliban let the Northern Alliance survive in a corner of Afghanistan where the Taliban figured they were contained and helpless--until our special forces and spies went in and spearheaded the offensive by those "defeated" elements that began in October 2001 and toppled the Taliban regime.