Army predicts declining Iraq war casualties

With U.S. deaths in Iraq topping 1,500, the commanding general of allied troops in Baghdad said Thursday he expects casualties will soon decline because of bomb-detecting technology and emboldened Iraqi informants.

“My expectation, not just a hope, is that over the coming months we’ll see the number of casualties go down,” Maj. Gen. William G. Webster said in a teleconference from Baghdad. “Now, I’m knocking on wood at the same time, because the enemy gets a vote in this.”

As commander of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Webster took command Sunday of Task Force Baghdad – the allied military force of 30,000 troops responsible for securing Iraq’s capital city.

As of Thursday, at least 1,502 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion.

The greatest threat has been homemade bombs detonated from roadsides, in cars and by suicide attackers. Webster said a main focus for his troops will be untangling and hunting down complex networks of insurgents – financiers, suppliers and attackers – behind the bombings.

U.S. soldiers are also studying how insurgent bombs are built – using alarm clocks, washing machine timers, cell phones and garage-door openers – to devise ways of finding the explosives before they kill.

“We’re training our soldiers every night on what are the latest trends and techniques being used by the enemy so they can find these devices,” Webster said. “We’re finding 30 to 45 percent of them on a given day.”

In some cases, troops use electronic gadgets that can jam remote detonation signals or explode bombs harmlessly from a distance.

They’re also beginning to use armored vehicles that can scan roads for potential bombs and inspect them with mechanical arms. Webster said the vehicles can inspect 500 miles of road each day, and have discovered more than 60 insurgent bombs in the past month.

U.S. forces also have established hot lines where Iraqis can phone in anonymous tips about hidden bombs or plotting attackers. Webster said the success of the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq has also emboldened many Iraqis who may have been previously wary of sharing information. “The confidence of the Iraqi people has increased and it has caused our tips to increase,” he said.

© 2005 The Associated Press