Showing posts with label US Surge. Show all posts
Showing posts with label US Surge. Show all posts

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The US Surge Revisited: What's the evidence for decreased casualties after one year of troop deployment?

In September last year we published a critique of the available data on the impact of the US 'surge' in Iraq. Comparing the figures for US coalition casualties with the data on attacks presented by General Petraeus to the US congress it was evident that things just did not add up. At that stage, in mid September 2007, US casualties had not declined and there was no evidence of a decrease in civilian casualties either. But now, after more than a full year of data has become available on the 'surge' (Feb 2007 - Mar 2008) what is the evidence for an improvement in the casualty burden?

Our updated graph of US Coalition fatalities (non-Iraqi troops only) shows that from mid September 2007 onwards daily fatalities have, in fact, markedly declined. In February 2008 an average of 1.03 deaths occurred per day compared to 3.04 per day in Feb 2007. For March, these figures were 1.26 and 2.65 respectively. This does suggest that conflict levels have fallen substantially. However, it should be noted that some of the decrease in foreign troop deaths may have been due to an increase in the number of active Iraqi units fighting within the US Coalition.

Figures for civilian fatalities are much harder to assess due to the substantial challenges faced in collecting reliable data. We are planning to publish a detailed review of this soon. However, the available trend data does indicate a significant fall. Good news it appears. A major remaining policy issue of course is to what extent the 'US surge' can account for these apparent improvements. The role of the Mahdi Army cease fire and the 'Anbar Awakening' are widely acknowledged to have been critical factors. Future political developments may reveal to what extent these have been responsible.

Data updated 21.04.08

Friday, November 09, 2007

2007 is the Most Deadly Year for the US in Iraq so Far

The BBC is reporting that the US has already experienced the highest annual death toll of the war so far in 2007. And there are still two months left to run. Claims continue to be made about a reduction in attacks associated with the 'surge'. However, such previous assertions looked very shaky when an objective assessment of the data was made. We plan to repeat that analysis at the end of the year to try and gauge the real impact of the US strategy.
"The death of six US troops this week has made 2007 the most deadly year for US forces in Iraq.

Five US soldiers and one sailor were killed in three separate incidents, bringing the number of deaths in 2007 to over 850. With almost two months to go, US losses have already surpassed those of 2004 - previously the worst year...

Five US soldiers were killed on Monday in two separate roadside bomb attacks, in Kirkuk and Anbar provinces. A US sailor also died on Monday from injuries sustained in an explosion in Salahuddin province, north of Baghdad."

Monday, September 24, 2007

Red Cross Assessment Finds Iraq Situation Very Different from General Petraeus

A new assessment from the International Committee of the Red Cross emphasises that the humanitarian situation in Iraq is continuing to deteriorate. It appears to be completely at odds with the up beat message from General Petraeus on the success of the US surge in reducing violence. Béatrice Mégevand-Roggo writes from Geneva after returning from a recent field visit.
"The humanitarian crisis is continuing to spread, deepen and worsen. Security has deteriorated hugely over the last year, especially in recent months. The humanitarian situation is desperate.

On my mission to Iraq it struck me to what extent the main concerns for people in Iraq are security and survival. The danger is insidious. Violence can strike anywhere, anytime, anyhow, while you’re shopping or while you’re taking your children to school. Not only in Baghdad but in many other towns and several regions. You can see that life in Iraq is permeated by a deep-seated fear of what might happen next.

I think that’s what’s hardest for people there to live with. It’s even worse than the difficulties of everyday life - shortages of water and electricity, difficulty buying food because of the danger of leaving the house, limited access to medical care, etc. The hospitals are functioning badly and are swamped, very few qualified staff have stayed in Iraq, those health centres that haven’t closed down are only working intermittently, and even then they’re not functioning as they should be. Every aspect of life has become a strain. All this is forcing more and people to flee. They head for other parts of Iraq, or try to escape to other countries.

It’s very difficult to say how many people are affected by the conflict, or to give the number of displaced persons and refugees. What is certain is that several million people have emigrated and several hundred thousand have become internally displaced persons. The authorities have announced that they are going to close the border with Syria, which would make the situation even harder for people who want to leave the country."

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Iraq, the US Surge, and Statistics

When General David Petraeus presented his report (pdf) to the US and the world this week, he made important claims about a decrease in violence and casualties. The first key figure from his presentation is reproduced below. He claims that firstly, there is a decreasing rate of attacks on US troops and related targets, and secondly, there is a decreasing rate of civilian casualties associated with the surge. But how reliable are the data used to make the claims and how well does it compare to other available sources of information?

To assess the first claim we looked at the data for US casualties compiled by Iraq Coalition Casualty Count. The two images below are graphs we produced of their fatality and wounded monitoring tables for the period September 2006 - 2007 and July 2006-2007 respectively. It can be seen that the pattern is somewhat different than the graphs of attack rates shown above by Petraeus. While the graph of US coalition fatalities does show a marked decline between May and July this does not correspond to the period of the surge. The 'surge' may be considered as either comprising February 2007 onwards, or, comprising the period of the surge offensives, which Petraeus presents as occurring from 16 June onwards. In either event, by August the downwards trend has stopped and fatality rates are no longer declining. Current fatality rates during September this year are 2.8 deaths/day, higher than they were in September 2006 when the death rate stood at 2.6/day.

Examining the available data for injuries reveals a similarly inconclusive picture. Between July 2006 and July 2007 (months for which complete data are available) it is impossible to identify any period of decline that relates to the surge.

It should also be noted that as the US were surging in Bagdhad, the British were themselves experiencing a dramatic upsurge in attacks and casualties in the south of Iraq, the two events being perhaps more closely linked than either government may wish to acknowledge.

In conclusion, we have to say that there is no evidence, as yet, to suggest a decline in US casualties relating to the surge. The decline in attacks reported by Petraeus is therefore puzzling. Assuming that the decline shown by his attack rate is accurate, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that attacks by the Iraqi resistance against US forces are becoming more effective and deadly. This is no good news for the US.

The second major claim made in the presentation by Petraeus is that civilian casualties have declined.
"Civilian deaths of all categories, less natural causes, have also declined considerably, by over 45% Iraq-wide since the height of the sectarian violence in December."
If true, this is obviously an encouraging statement for all concerned, but the first problem is the source of the data that he cites. There are many serious deficiencies in 'host and coalition' reporting capacity in this area. Indeed, the Iraqi government recently refused to share its figures with the UN after the UN produced much higher estimates of civilian deaths. As for the US military, its previous commander of the Iraq campaign General Tommy Franks, infamously claimed "We don't do body counts". While this assertion was wisely taken with more than a pinch of salt, the US military has no known capacity for reliably recording or reporting total civilian casualties. So why should this current and very convenient claim on a decline in casualties be taken seriously now?

Looking at other sources of data shows: some support from the media monitoring project, Iraq Body Count, for a small decline in casualties, but nothing like the 45% reduction claimed by Petraeus. Media monitoring data of Iraqi civilian and security force casualties maintained by Iraq Coalition Casualty Monitor shows no clear trend associated with the surge.

But maybe the Iraqi people should have the last say on the success or otherwise of the surge. The BBC summarise the results of a poll of Iraqis indicating that "About 70% of Iraqis believe security has deteriorated in the area covered by the US military "surge" of the past six months".

Update: An analysis of casulaties during the 'surge' up to February 2008 is now available