BAGHDAD – This year has become the deadliest for American soldiers in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, after the U.S. military Tuesday announced the deaths of five troops and a sailor in roadside bombings.
The attacks brought the total number of U.S. soldiers killed this year to at least 853, eclipsing the previous record of 849 set in 2004, according to data compiled by icasualties.org, an independent Web site that tracks Iraq war casualties. With more than seven weeks left in the year, the toll was on pace to far outstrip any previous year.
At least 3,855 American troops have died since the conflict began in March 2003, according to the Web site.
The new benchmark came even as the U.S. and Iraqi governments have been reporting progress in securing the country and moving toward fresh steps to rebuild it. After a heavy toll among soldiers earlier this year, U.S. officials have been encouraged by two consecutive months of declines that dropped troop deaths to their lowest monthly level since March 2006. Deaths am-ong civilians attacked by insurgents or militias are also down, raising hopes among officials that Iraq violence might have turned a corner.
The 38 U.S. military personnel killed in October were half of the 65 recorded deaths the previous month.
In addition to the troop buildup that increased the U.S. force level by nearly 30,000 additional soldiers, U.S. officials pursued a new strategy that put troops at greater exposure than they had in the months before.
The military moved large numbers of troops off massive bases and stationed them in outposts in the communities they were assigned to safeguard, leading to a spike in deaths earlier in the year.
“We knew going into this that with the new strategy there was a potential for more casualties,” said Col. Steven Boylan, a spokesman for Gen. David David H. Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq.
“When the strategy became to protect the civilian population, that automatically increased the risk to our forces, because you have to be out in the population to do that.”