August 1, 2008 [LINK / comment]

GWOT: good news, bad news

First, the good news in the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT): For the entire month of July, there were only ten U.S. combat deaths in Iraq, the lowest fatality rate since the war began. (The previous low figure was 19, in February 2004, just before things started getting ugly in Fallujah.) President Bush said that some American units may be withdrawn from Iraq in the next few months, which would be a huge relief for the many thousands of long-suffering military families. The question is whether they would return to the U.S.A. or be redeployed "elsewhere"... See Washington Post.

In contrast, July was a very bad month for Afghanistan. We don't have solid figures yet, but there were certainly more U.S. combat deaths there than in Iraq. Our Canadian and German allies are paying a significant price in human lives as well. A bomb blast at the Indian embassy in Kabul raised the possibility of war with Pakistan, and President Hamid Karzai spoke in unusually blunt terms toward the Pakistani government. The difficult transition to democracy in Pakistan seems to be confounding the expectation that democracy will be a force against terrorism. The problem is that the large majority of people are brainwashed from a young age at the madrassa schools at which radical Islamic theology is taught.

In light of this alarming situation, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced that some U.S. troops will deploy to Afghanistan, depending on how things are going in Iraq. He spoke at a press conference with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen. They noted that the Pakistani government's response to the recent upsurge in Taliban/al Qaeda activity in the mountain regions remains to be seen. (Indeed, the Pakistanis have been playing both side of the fence for years.) See Defense Department. The Marines were "ahead of the curve" on this redeployment, pushing last year to have their units taken out of occupation duties in Iraq (too boring for the "jarheads") and sent to where the action is. Too bad the Pentagon didn't make such a change more promptly.

Lest we get too optimistic on the prospects for (relative) peace and stability in Iraq, we shouldn't forget that an "October surprise" may be in store. The terrorists and their Islamic radical allies are keenly aware of the sensitivity of U.S. public opinion (or indeed the publics of any country) during an election campaign. There is an overwhelming likelihood that they will try to stage some kind of morale-deflating attack in the weeks before the November 4 elections. The objective would be to encourage voters to choose a less-aggressive candidate for president, as happened in Spain after the Madrid bombings of March 2004. That tactic could easily backfire, however, so we shouldn't assume that a high-casualty terrorist attack would necessarily favor Barack Obama or John McCain. It would depend on how the campaign is going, and on how each candidate reacts to such an attack.

Based on a chart in a recent Washington Post article, I have added a table of combat deaths in Afghanistan in the left column of the War blog category page, lined up with the corresponding table of war deaths in Iraq in the right column.

Support the troops

Finally, from one of the posts on the News Leader's opinion forum feature last month, I learned of a new organization devoted to making life easier for our servicemen and women who are stationed overseas: soldiersangels.org.