In mid-November 2011, the commanding officer of U.S. forces in Iraq General Lloyd Austin said that troop levels had gone below 20,000. That was down from 47,000 at the beginning of the year. This was just the latest sign that the American military was on their way out of Iraq. In fact, they are ahead of schedule, and expect to have all units withdrawn by the beginning of December instead at the very end of the year. The United States has paid a heavy price for its invasion and occupation of Iraq, which can now be tallied as it leaves the country.
Originally, the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003 with roughly 150,000 troops, plus Coalition forces. The initial plans were to withdraw forces within months of the fall of Baghdad, and turn the country over to Iraqis. Even as the insurgency began to grow, the Defense Department was still committed to pulling out its troops. From March to June 2003 there were still 150,000 troops in Iraq, but in the following months there was a steady decline to 149,000 in July, 139,000 in August, 132,000 in September, 131,000 in October, 123,000 in November, and reaching a low of 115,000 in February 2004. It took until March for more soldiers and Marines to be recommitted to the fight, just in time to meet the first Sadr uprising and major insurgent offensives that spring. By August there were 140,000 troops in the country. Still, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the Central Command (CENTCOM) were determined to get out of the country. Troops would dip again in the middle of 2005 to 135,000 in June, until building back up to 160,000 in December to help with the national elections that month. Immediately afterword, they went back down again to 136,000 in January 2006, 133,000 in February, 132,000 in April, and 126,900 in June. Those two years marked the beginning and crescendo of the sectarian civil war as well, as the country was on the verge of collapse. That fighting short circuited American plans to withdraw from Iraq. That forced commanding General George Casey to bring troop levels back up to 140,000-144,000 by the end of 2006. 2007 was marked by the Surge when more troops were committed with new counterinsurgency tactics. The number of U.S. forces went from 132,000 in January, to 135,000 in February, 142,000 in March, 146,000 in April, 149,700 in May, 157,000 in June, until reaching the highest level yet at 171,000 in October. After that, the number of soldiers and Marines slowly decreased, doing down to 148,000 by June 2008. At the end of the year, the Bush administration negotiated a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Baghdad, which set December 31, 2011 as the withdrawal date for all U.S. ground forces. That led to the current decline. In January 2009, there were 142,000 American soldiers and Marines in Iraq. Since then, every few months saw a decline with some old units not being replaced with new ones. By June 2009 there were 130,000 U.S. forces in Iraq, going down to 110,000 by December. In February 2010, troop levels dipped below one hundred thousands for the first time when there were 98,000 in Iraq. By June, there were 85,000, and 48,000 by December. Troop levels hovered around that level for most of 2011, but then began to decline at the end of the summer heading into the fall and winter with 44,000 in August, 40,000 in September, 39,000 in October, and now to 17,000 in November.
During the last eight years of combat, America has lost over 4,400 troops. The Associated Press’ last count was 4,485 deaths, 3,527 from hostile fire. The last casualty occurred on November 14, when a soldier from the 82nd Airborne Division was killed by an IED in Baghdad. In the first year in Iraq, there were 486 deaths, quickly jumping to 849 in 2004. The deadliest year for American forces was 2007 during the Surge when there were 904 deaths. Obviously, with more troops in the country carrying out more operations there would be heavier casualties. The deadliest months however were in April and November 2004 when 135 and 137 soldiers and Marines were killed respectively. Those marked the first and second battles of Fallujah, along with the first Sadrist uprising. Since 2007, deaths have seen a dramatic decline going down to 314 in 2008, 149 in 2009, 60 in 2010, and 53 in 2011. (2 deaths are missing from these counts.)
The leading cause of death for Americans in Iraq has been the infamous improvised explosive device (IED), which emerged during the conflict. 1,756 soldiers and Marines have been killed by IEDs since March 2003. That was followed by 1,526 by gunfire and grenades. 813 Americans died in non-hostile actions such as accidents, followed by 140 killed by car bombs and mortar/rocket fire each, and 107 by rocket propelled grenades (RPGs). These numbers come from the Brookings Institution’s “Iraq Index”, which misses three fatalities.
Every state and territory in the United States has felt these losses. California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Illinois have the largest populations in America in that order, and have seen some of the largest number of fatalities. California has had 475 casualties, Texas 419, Florida 196, New York 191, and 162 in Illinois. Those were followed by Pennsylvania’s 196, Ohio’s 188, Michigan’s 159, Georgia’s 141, and Virginia’s 134 to round out the top ten. Territories such as Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and the Mariana Islands have all suffered loses as well with 38, 9, 7, 6, and 5 respectively.
American forces have also suffered over 32,000 wounded since March 2003. In November 2011, the Defense Department reported 32,226 wounded. Over 22,000 of those have come from the Army, followed by more than 8,600 from the Marines, over 600 sailors, and 450 airmen and women. The heaviest casualties came in 2004, again because of the two battles for Fallujah, and the two fights with the Mahdi Army, with 8,000 wounded that year. During the Surge year of 2007 for comparison, 6,108 were wounded. As with fatalities, the states with the largest populations have seen the most wounded. From March 2003 to September 2011, 3,086 Californians had been wounded, followed by 2,810 in Texas, 1,433 in Florida, 1,419 in New York, 1,264 in Ohio, 1,236 in Pennsylvania, and 1,092 in Illinois.
The eight-year war in Iraq is finally coming to an end for the United States. Tens of thousands of American forces have served in the country, and over 4,400 have lost their lives, and more than 32,000 were wounded in the process. All units will be out by the beginning of December, but several hundred troops will remain in the country as trainers. Iranian-backed Special Groups routinely attack American bases, and that’s not likely to end anytime soon. That means in all likelihood the U.S. has not seen its last casualty in Iraq, and the costs of the U.S. invasion will continue to accrue.
Associated Press, "US military: American service member dies in Iraq," 11/4/11
- “US military deaths in Iraq war at 4,485,” Stars and Stripes, 11/22/11
- “US military deaths in Iraq war at 4,485,” Stars and Stripes, 11/22/11
- “US military deaths in Iraq war at 4,485 on Tuesday, according to Associated Press count,” 11/29/11
- “US service member dies while conducting operations in central Iraq,” Washington Post, 11/15/11
Ghanem, Pierre, “U.S. moves to withdraw troops from Iraq weeks ahead of schedule,” Al Arabiya, 11/18/11
India Vision, “’Only 17,000 US soldiers left in Iraq,’” 11/25/11
NBC DFW, “Mesquite Soldier Killed in Iraq,” 11/8/11
O’Hanlon, Michael Livingston, Ian, “Iraq Index,” Brookings Institute, 10/28/11
Peterson, Scott, “As US exits Iraq, a top general’s warning,” Christian Science Monitor, 11/21/11
Ricks, Thomas, Fiasco, New York: Penguin Press, 2006
U.S. Department of Defense, “DOD Identifies Army Casualty,” 9/25/11
United States Forces Iraq, “U.S. service member dies in Iraq,” Operation New Dawn, 9/19/11