U.S. Monthly Toll in Iraq at Highest Point in 2 Years
JACKI LYDEN, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden. Debbie Elliott is away.
U.S. casualties in Iraq are up sharply. Since the beginning of this month, 29 have been killed. And last month, 776 American troops were wounded, the highest monthly toll in two years.
On Thursday, Senator John Warner, the Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, warned that the situation in Iraq was drifting sideways, and Senator Warner, who is just back from a brief visit to Baghdad, said the U.S. should consider a change of course if the violence does not diminish.
Joining us to talk about the reasons for this spike in American casualties is retired Army Colonel Douglas MacGregor, a decorated combat veteran. While still in uniform early in the war, he advised Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Colonel MacGregor, thanks for being here. Are we seeing rising casualties simply because American forces have now stepped up the effort to secure Baghdad?
Colonel DOUGLAS MACGREGOR (U.S.Army, Retired): No. I think it's much more serious challenge to the American military presence in Iraq than operations in Baghdad. We've got many polls now, taken formally and informally in Iraq, suggesting that the overwhelming majority of the Muslim Arab population either simply wants us to leave or approves of attacks against American soldiers, and I think that's a pretty good indicator that our position in that country is, as Senator Warner hinted, really hopeless.
LYDEN: Have the tactics of the insurgents changed?
Col. MACGREGOR: Well, we know that for the first time in awhile we've lost soldiers in a direct firefight to enemy direct fire. That has not normally been the case. Normally the so-called insurgents, whom I prefer in most cases to refer to as rebels against the American military occupation, have preferred to rely on the use of command detonated mines or IEDs, improvised explosive devises.
They do seem to be shooting straighter. They seem to have access to better weaponry and they seem to be more willing to attack anyone that they think is vulnerable once an American soldier or Marine steps outside the fortified bases.
LYDEN: Have you spoken to any commanders who are recently returned from this battle theater?
Col. MACGREGOR: Yes, I have. I've talked to a number of majors and lieutenant colonels who are recently returned, and they talk about the growing contempt that the population has for the American military presence.
One described to me that in many cases notes are pasted to the doors of houses that American soldiers or Marines are being sent to inspect or search. The note says, Please try not to break anything while you're inside the house and close the door before you leave.
And when that was reported to senior military leaders here, they took this as evidence that somehow or another the population was reaching an accommodation with the American military. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. It was simply an expression of contempt, knowing full well that we weren't going to find anything, and if we did, it was irrelevant.
LYDEN: Let me ask you. The other point of bringing more troops from Mosul and other places into Baghdad City was to try to reduce the flow of insurgents into the city from outlying areas. Has that, in the judgment of those you've talked to who've just returned, been effective?
Col. MACGREGOR: Well, our experience has been that whenever you move troops from one area to another, that your insurgent enemy adjusts very quickly.
We have a bad habit of attaching significance to large numbers of casualties in one day, smaller numbers the next week, without understanding that whenever you move forces around for any length of time, the enemy simply adjusts, always looking for your points of vulnerability.
LYDEN: Some military experts say that perhaps we're getting a better assessment of how the war is really going if we take a look at wounded soldiers and troops as opposed to the number of those killed in action, simply because medical efficacy has changed a great deal.
Col. MACGREGOR: Well, I think that's probably accurate. You know, our medical science has improved dramatically. We have an excellent evacuation system that has done wonders and kept people alive that clearly under other circumstances, two, three, or four decades ago, would have certainly died of wounds.
The numbers of people being wounded is something that is rarely mentioned, unfortunately, and I think it does indicate the level of hostility toward us in that country.
LYDEN: Thank you very much.
Douglas MacGregor is a retired U.S. army colonel and now an independent consultant and policy analyst.
Colonel MacGregor, thanks again.
Col. MACGREGOR: Okay. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.