Why Have US Casualties In Iraq Fallen?

It's good news, but befuddling. I thought the surge would mean more casualties but with the prize of real counter-insurgency. And we've certainly seen a decline in Iraqi deaths. Fred Kaplan spots a fascinating statistic that should surely merit further examination:

Since the surge began and Gen. Petraeus shifted the strategy to counterinsurgency, the number of U.S. airstrikes has soared.

From January to September of this year, according to unclassified data, U.S. Air Force pilots in Iraq have flown 996 sorties that involved dropping munitions. By comparison, in all of 2006, they flew just 229 such sortiesone-quarter as many. In 2005, they flew 404; in 2004, they flew 285.

In other words, in the first nine months of 2007, Air Force planes dropped munitions on targets in Iraq more often than in the previous three years combined.

More telling still, the number of airstrikes soared most dramatically at about the same time that U.S. troop fatalities declined. (Click here for month-by-month figures.)

My best bet is that Petraeus is doing the best he can with insufficient troop levels to succeed. Hence the airstrikes. But they can create more civilian casualties and alienate the populace. The emerging CW that the surge has "worked" seems to me to be extremely premature.