December 31, 2008
Troop deaths lowest since '03

Year's toll in Iraq and Afghanistan stands at 467, including 12 Hoosiers

By Andrea Stone
USA Today

BAGHDAD -- As 2008 ends, Hoosier and U.S. troop deaths for the year in Iraq and Afghanistan are the lowest combined total since the Iraq war began in 2003.

Still, Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, warns against complacency as the Americans hand off security to Iraqi forces and more U.S. forces head to Afghanistan.

"In military terms, transitions are always the most dangerous," he said. "We're trying to make sure we don't have any seams in our transition."

So far in December, at least 15 U.S. service members have died of combat and noncombat injuries suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan, the lowest combined monthly toll since the Iraq war began, according to a USA Today analysis of Pentagon data.

The previous low was 18 in November. No Hoosier service members died in December.

U.S. deaths for the year as of Tuesday were 467 in both wars, lower even than the partial year of 2003, when fighting in Iraq began March 20. This year, seven troops with Indiana ties died in Iraq, and five Hoosier troops died in Afghanistan.

Odierno said brewing tensions in Iraq between Arabs and Kurds in the north, interference by Iran and simmering internal political tensions pose the potential for large-scale attacks against U.S. forces.

Plus, the Pentagon plans to send as many as 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan by summer.

The next test will be a series of Iraqi elections, starting with the Jan. 31 vote for provincial councils, which could stir up violence.

"Al-Qaida will try to exploit the elections because they don't want them to happen. So I think they will attempt to create some violence and uncertainty in the population," Odierno said. "The next 60 days are a critical period."

Bombings remain a daily feature in Iraq, with mostly civilians being hurt. Military deaths have gone down significantly in Iraq since the 2007 buildup of U.S. troops and a push to recruit former Sunni insurgents into Iraq's security forces.

The so-called surge quieted al-Qaida and Iranian-backed "special groups," said Col. Bill Buckner, a U.S. military spokesman.

For now, major military operations are limited, he said. And Iraq attacks dropped from an average of nearly 180 a day in 2007 to 10 a day this year, the Pentagon says.

"If you look back to a year or two ago, it would have been unthinkable that we'd be where we are right now," said Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq.

The drop in deaths also stems from U.S. troops turning over more responsibility to Iraqi security forces to lead patrols and anti-insurgent operations.

In May, coalition forces conducted 50 percent to 60 percent of patrols. By December, up to 70 percent were led by Iraqi security forces.
Additional Facts
Fallen Hoosiers in 2008


March 14: Staff Sgt. Collin Bowen, 38, who lived in Maryland, died at Brooke Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston, Texas, of injuries he suffered Jan. 2 when his vehicle was struck by a homemade explosive device. Bowen was a graduate of Marion High School.

June 14: Lance Cpl. Layton Crass, 22, Richmond, was one of four Marines who died in a roadside bomb attack in Helmand province.

June 19: Lance Cpl. Andrew Francis Whitacre, 21, Bryant, died while conducting combat operations in Farah province. He was a 2005 graduate of Jay County High School.

June 27: Staff Sgt. Travis K. Hunsberger, 24, Goshen, was killed in Lamay when his vehicle struck a roadside bomb. He graduated from NorthWood High School in 2002 and attended Ball State University for two years before joining the Army.

Aug. 16: Staff Sgt. Kristopher Dan Rodgers, 29, Burr Oak, Mich., was killed in the Korengal Valley when his Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb. Rodgers, who grew up in Howe, was a 1998 graduate of Lakeland High School in LaGrange.


March 17: Staff Sgt. Michael Elledge, formerly of Brownsburg, was one of two soldiers who died in Baghdad when a roadside bomb exploded near their vehicle.

May 10: Spc. Joseph Ford, Knox, was the Indiana National Guard 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team's first casualty in Iraq. He died of injuries suffered when his vehicle rolled over in Anbar province west of Baghdad.

May 10: Staff Sgt. James Snyder, Nappanee, died in Georgia of injuries he suffered in January on his third tour of duty in Iraq. He had severe leg injuries when his vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb in Baghdad.

Aug. 2: Sgt. Brian K. Miller, 37, Pendleton, died in Abd Allah of injuries he suffered in a vehicle rollover accident. He was assigned to the Indiana National Guard's 293rd Infantry Regiment, 76th Brigade Combat Team, headquartered in Huntington.

Aug. 4: Spc. Jonathan Menke, 22, Madison, and Sgt. Gary Henry, 34, Indianapolis, were killed when a roadside bomb exploded close to their vehicle. The Indiana National Guardsmen were members of the Danville-based 38th Military Police Company. Henry was a 12-year member of the Indianapolis Fire Department.

Nov. 6: Spc. William Justin Foster McClellan, 22, died at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he had been recovering from injuries suffered during combat in Iraq. McClellan, who lived in Clarksville, Tenn., was born in New Castle.