By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
March 24, 2008 - The U.S. military passed a sad milestone today: the 4,000th U.S. death in operations in Iraq. “Every single loss of a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine is keenly felt by us in the department, by military commanders, by families and friends both in theater and at home," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said during an informal news conference today.
Whitman stressed that no casualty is more significant than another. "Each soldier, Marine, sailor or airmen is equally precious, and each loss of life is equally tragic," he said.
Whitman called attention to the sacrifices by coalition allies and by Iraqi forces. "Their sacrifices are just as tragic, and their contributions are equally valuable," he said. "And our thoughts are with those families also."
Eight U.S. government civilians also have died in Iraq. More than 16,000 U.S. government civilians have deployed to Iraq since 2003.
Still, both coalition and Iraqi security force casualties are down significantly from May 2007, Whitman said, and since May 2006, Iraqi civilian casualties also have declined.
Al Qaeda in Iraq and other extremists will continue to try to hit coalition troops and indiscriminately kill Iraqi civilians in hopes of breeding a civil war, Whitman said.
"There are forces that do not want to see Iraq move forward with a representative government as a peaceful nation, and they can still inflict casualties -- both on Iraqi civilians and coalition forces," he told reporters.
Suicide bombers continue to try and launch attacks and sometimes succeed. There are gun battles as coalition and Iraqi forces move into new areas and confront the extremists.
"Would we like to reduce these casualties to nothing? Of course," Whitman said. "Are there still going to be casualties in the days ahead? Most unfortunately, there will be."
The surge strategy has paid off, Whitman said. The surge of five U.S. brigade combat teams, support forces and Marines has provided the space and time needed for local and provincial governments to set up.
"It's also given us the time necessary to develop the Iraqi security forces, which now are increasingly taking the lead for these security functions," he said.