American casualties in Iraq are often compared to those suffered during the Vietnam war, or even World War II. This is a very misleading comparison. On an annual basis, American combat deaths per 1,000 troops in Iraq have been about 3.6. During the Vietnam war it varied from year to year, but the average was about five times higher than in Iraq. The casualty rate in World War II was even higher. The following chart shows the Vietnam death rate by year.
|Year||Combat Dead||Troops in Vietnam||Dead per 1,000|
Why are the casualties in Iraq so much lower? After all, in both wars, most of the fighting was against irregulars, who operated among civilians. There are several major differences. Most importantly, the troops in Iraq are better trained and have more time in the military than was the case in Vietnam. The American officers and NCOs in Iraq are better trained as well. Another major factor is superior equipment, which ranges from more effective body armor, to better radios and lots of robots and UAVs. While its easier to credit better technology, by far the most important reason for the lower casualties has been the quality of the troops. This quality also leads to more effective tactics being developed and used. Some soldiers who have been in Iraq, and had seen combat in Vietnam (usually older reservists) have observed that the Vietnam communists they faced in the 1960s were much more capable than the Iraqis. But that is partly because the Vietnamese fighters had more experience at that kind of warfare, having been at it since the late 1930s. The Iraqis are new to it.
It generally goes unnoticed in the mass media that the casualty rate among American troops in Iraq is at a historical low. This is a remarkable achievement in military history, and will be studied for decades to come, even if it was not noticed much while it was happening.