Larry Schweikart: The Failing "Insurgency" in Iraq

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Mr. Schweikart is the author of America’s Victories: Why the U.S. Wins Wars and Will Win the War on Terror.]

Roadside-bomb attacks are typically cited as evidence that the U.S. and its allies are losing the war in Iraq. But a more in-depth look at the numbers suggests that the opposite may be the case.

Since January of 2006, there have been some 11,242 roadside bomb/improvised explosive device (IED) attacks in Iraq, a considerable uptick from the 10,953 for the 12 months of 2005. According to the Brookings Institution, IEDs account for 33 percent of all U.S. deaths. Through June, that means that of the 346 U.S. fatalities, 114 were related to roadside bombs. The Marine Corps reports that accidents after a roadside bomb or IED explodes account for about one-third of all its casualties.

Having just returned from North Carolina's Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base and reviewed the training the Marines go through, I can attest that these numbers are being taken very seriously. In response, the Marines have beefed up their driver’s training, building special Iraqi-like courses—lots of sand, with weak shoulders and narrow bridges—in an effort to reduce after-explosion casualties. Among other things, the Marines have slowed down their drivers, noting that at slightly slower speeds one is not substantially more likely to get shot or to detonate a device, but much more likely to keep a damaged vehicle under control.

Looking once more at the numbers, it appears that the adjustments are paying off: 114 deaths from 11,242 roadside bomb attacks means that it takes almost 100 such attacks to kill a single U.S. soldier—a vastly better average for our troops than, say, flying B-17s over Germany in World War II, or flying any aircraft in World War I, where 50 percent of all fliers were killed, half of them in training accidents before they ever fought in combat.

To be sure, IED’s remain our enemy’s most effective mode of attack in Iraq. But this is not so grim as it may sound. Consider the question of how many enemy terrorists are setting off 100 IEDs or, for that matter, merely making them? My guess is that we kill 25 “insurgents” for every 100 attacks, and that at least four or five more incinerate themselves before ever getting the weapon to the roadside. Put another way, it’s costing the enemy 25-30 dead to kill a single American in a roadside attack.

Another measure of how incredibly effective our military is at adapting comes from year-to-year comparisons. From January to June 2005, 409 Americans were killed, while from January to June of 2006 we lost 346. Worth noting is that casualties were reduced despite the fact that the number of attacks in 2006 increased by almost 300. The press harps over such increases, but fails to note it indicates weakness and failure on the part of the enemy. The reason is that it is taking more and more attacks to kill a smaller number of Americans.

There is an even more important lesson to be learned from statistics on IEDs. Enemy training, morale, munitions, and, above all, numbers have been declining. How long does it take to make an IED? Having never made one myself, I’m not sure. But I do know this for certain: It’s taking more and more time with each jihadist we kill or who blows himself up in the learning process. Not only is the numbers game working against the terrorists, but so is time. As more trained terrorists die, the learning curve—a lethal one, in this case—increases further.

In sum, the “insurgency” in Iraq remains a force to be reckoned with. It can shape American public opinion and throw a monkey wrench into Iraqi elections. But it is equally important to bear in mind that it has exacted a spectacularly high cost in jihadist lives and, as their declining ability to produce and deploy IEDs suggests, severely damaged their war strategy. Violence will likely persist in Iraq, but we’ve already absorbed the worst the enemy has to offer.

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Edwin Moise - 8/21/2006

Schweikart says that in Iraq, "Enemy training, morale, munitions, and, above all, numbers have been declining." He gives no evidence for any of these things; he seems to take it on faith that the casualties the United States is inflicting on the insurgency MUST be having these effects.

He says he knows "for certain" that the amount of time it takes for a member of this shrinking corps of jihadists to plant an IED is increasing. One wonders, then, why the rate at which IEDs are being planted has increased to all-time record levels.