PHILADELPHIA - The U.S. death toll in Iraq has
surpassed the number of American soldiers killed during the
first three years of the Vietnam War, the brutal Cold War
conflict that cast a shadow over U.S. affairs for more than a
A Reuters analysis of Defense Department statistics showed
on Thursday that the Vietnam War, which the Army says
officially began on Dec. 11, 1961, produced a combined 392
fatal casualties from 1962 through 1964, when American troop
levels in Indochina stood at just over 17,000.
By comparison, a roadside bomb attack that killed a soldier
in Baghdad on Wednesday brought to 397 the tally of American
dead in Iraq, where U.S. forces number about 130,000 troops --
the same number reached in Vietnam by October 1965.
Milagros Perez(C) weeps in front of the coffin of her husband, U.S. Army Sgt. Joel Perez during a military funeral in Newark, New Jersey, November 10, 2003. The U.S. death toll in Iraq has surpassed the number of American soldiers killed during the first three years of the Vietnam War, the brutal Cold War conflict that cast a shadow over U.S. affairs for more than a generation. A Reuters analysis of Defense Department statistics showed on Thursday that the Vietnam War, which the Army says officially began on Dec. 11, 1961, produced a combined 392 fatal casualties from 1962 through 1964, when American troop levels in Indochina stood at just over 17,000. (Chip East/Reuters)
The casualty count for Iraq apparently surpassed the
Vietnam figure last Sunday, when a U.S. soldier killed in a
rocket-propelled grenade attack south of Baghdad became the
conflict's 393rd American casualty since Operation Iraqi
Freedom began on March 20.
Larger still is the number of American casualties from the
broader U.S. war on terrorism, which has produced 488 military
deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Southwest Asia
and other locations.
Statistics from battle zones outside Iraq show that 91
soldiers have died since Oct. 7, 2001, as part of Operation
Enduring Freedom, which President Bush launched against
Afghanistan's former Taliban regime after the Sept. 11, 2001,
attacks on New York and Washington killed 3,000 people.
The Bush administration has rejected comparisons between
Iraq and Vietnam, which traumatized Americans a generation ago
with a sad procession of military body bags and television
footage of grim wartime cruelty.
Recent opinion polls show public support for the president
eroding as he heads toward the 2004 election, partly because of
public concern over the deadly cycle of guerrilla attacks and
suicide bombings in Iraq.
On Thursday, heavy gunfire and explosions echoed across
Baghdad as U.S. troops pounded rebel positions for a second
night, and administration officials sought ways to accelerate a
transfer of power to the Iraqi people.
U.S. COMBAT POWER
Because U.S. involvement in Vietnam increased gradually
after the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, there is
little consensus on when the war in Southeast Asia began.
Some date the war to the late 1950s. Others say it began on
Aug. 5, 1964, when Lyndon Johnson announced air strikes against
North Vietnam in retaliation for a reported torpedo attack on a
U.S. destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin.
However, the Army's start date for the Vietnam War has been
set by its Center of Military History as Dec. 11, 1961, when
two helicopter companies consisting of 32 aircraft and 400
soldiers arrived in the country, an Army public affairs
"It was the first major assemblage of U.S. combat power in
Vietnam," explained Army historian Joe Webb.
Vietnam casualties, which amounted to 25 deaths from 1956
through 1961, climbed to 53 in 1962, 123 in 1963 and 216 in
1964, Pentagon statistics show.
At the time, the U.S. presence in Vietnam consisted mainly
of military advisers. President John F. Kennedy increased their
number from about 960 in 1961 to show Washington's commitment
to containing communism.
But not until 1965, after Congress had approved the Gulf of
Tonkin Resolution, did Washington begin its massive escalation
of the war effort. With a huge influx of soldiers, casualties
in Vietnam soared to 1,926 in 1965 and peaked at 16,869 in
1968, the year of the Tet Offensive, data show.
In a major revision of U.S. military history in 1995,
former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara said he believed the
Gulf of Tonkin torpedo attack never occurred.
More than 58,000 U.S. military personnel died in Vietnam
before the war ended in the mid-1970s.
In another comparison, British forces that created Iraq in
the aftermath of World War One suffered 2,000 casualties from
tribal reprisals, guerrilla attacks and a jihad proclaimed from
the Shi'ite holy city of Kerbala, before conditions stabilized
in 1921, according to U.S. military scholars.
Reuters included military deaths both on and off the
battlefield for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring
Freedom, for comparison with Vietnam War statistics that made
no distinction between hostile and non-hostile casualties.
On Thursday, U.S. combat deaths totaled 270 for Iraq and 28
for other battle zones, including Afghanistan.
Copyright 2003 Reuters Ltd