BAGHDAD – U.S. military deaths in Iraq plunged by two-thirds in 2008 from the previous year, a reflection of the improving security following the U.S. military’s counterinsurgency campaign and al-Qaida’s slow retreat from the battlefield.
By comparison, the war in Afghanistan saw American military deaths rise by 35 percent in 2008 as Islamic extremists shift their focus to a new front with the West.
According to a tally by the Associated Press, at least 314 U.S. soldiers died in Iraq in 2008, down from 904 in the previous year. In all, at least 4,221 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq since the war began in 2003.
For Iraqis, the plunge was also marked: During 2008, at least 7,496 Iraqis died in war-related violence according to an AP count, including 6,068 civilians and 1,428 security personnel, down 60 percent from 2007.
The tally does not reflect a comprehensive total for Iraqi deaths because reports do not come in from all of the country. The estimate, however, has proven accurate for tracking trends.
In Afghanistan, 151 U.S. soldiers died in 2008, compared with 111 in the previous year, according to an AP tally. The count recorded 1,160 civilians killed in insurgency-related violence, up from 875.
At least 625 U.S. soldiers have died because of the war in Afghanistan since the fighting began in 2001. The count is based on figures from Afghan, U.S. and NATO officials.
The combined total of at least 465 U.S. deaths in both Iraq and Afghanistan for 2008 is the lowest combined total for both wars since 2003, when the U.S. invaded Iraq.
Many critics have said the U.S. focus on Iraq led it to neglect the war in Afghanistan, allowing both al-Qaida and Taliban militants to regroup after being routed in 2001. The Taliban, in the last year, moved into wide swaths of Afghan countryside, where Afghan security forces or international troops don’t operate. Military commanders in Baghdad say they have enough troops to win all battles but not enough to hold territory, or to keep remote villages safe.