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U.S. deaths in Iraq, war on terror surpass 9/11 toll

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(CNN) -- As the fifth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attack on the United States approaches, another somber benchmark has just been passed.

The announcement Sunday of four more U.S. military deaths in Iraq raises the death toll to 2,974 for U.S. military service members in Iraq and in what the Bush administration calls the war on terror.

The 9/11 attack killed 2,973 people, including Americans and foreign nationals but excluding the terrorists. The 9/11 death toll was calculated by CNN.

The comparison between fatalities in the war on terror and 9/11 was drawn last month by Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"It's now almost five years since September 11, 2001," Pace said. "And the number of young men and women in our armed forces who have sacrificed their lives that we might live in freedom is approaching the number of Americans who were murdered on 9/11 in New York, in Washington, D.C., and in Pennsylvania."

Of the 2,974 U.S. military service members killed, 329 died in Operation Enduring Freedom and 2,645 in Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to the Pentagon. The total includes seven American civilian contractors working for the military in Iraq.

Of the 329 U.S. military deaths in the Operation Enduring Freedom campaign, 261 occurred in Afghanistan, including many in recent months amid a resurgent Taliban guerrilla campaign. Many British and Canadian troops have also been killed recently as part of the force that is operating against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan.

The first U.S. service member to die in the Enduring Freedom campaign was Air Force Sgt. Evander Earl Andrew, 36, of Solon, Maine, killed in a heavy equipment accident in the northern Arabian peninsula on October 10, 2001.

Operation Enduring Freedom saw 893 Americans wounded, with 552 not returned to duty.

On March 20, 2003, the United States invaded Iraq to oust the Saddam Hussein regime, which, the Bush administration said, harbored and pursued weapons of mass destruction -- munitions that were never found. While the Hussein regime was swiftly defeated, an insurgency emerged that has proved harder to handle for the U.S.-led coalition.

Of the 2,645 deaths in Iraq, 2,104 have been in combat and 541 were the results of accidents, illnesses, suicides and other factors.

The first deaths in Operation Iraqi Freedom were Marines -- four killed in a helicopter crash on March 20, 2003, and two killed in action in southern Iraq the next day.

In Iraq, 19,773 U.S. military personnel were wounded, with 8,991 not returning to duty. Many military and medical observers believe that advanced and prompt medical care saved hundreds, or even thousands, of lives.

Operation Iraqi Freedom casualties include deaths and injuries on or after March 19, 2003, in the Arabian Sea, Bahrain, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Persian Gulf, Qatar, Red Sea, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates. Before March 19, 2003, the casualties in these countries were considered part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

The Bush administration has consistently linked the Afghan and Iraq conflicts as part of an overall war on terror -- a much-debated idea since many critics of the Bush administration say the Hussein regime was never involved in sponsoring the al Qaeda terror network.

In the post-invasion period, though, terror groups -- including al Qaeda in Iraq -- have emerged, regularly conducting ruthless attacks against coalition and Iraqi military personnel and civilians.

Thursday, Bush emphasized that "Iraq is the central front in this war on terror." (Full story)

"If we leave the streets of Baghdad before the job is done, we will have to face the terrorists in our own cities. We will stay the course, we will help this young Iraqi democracy succeed, and victory in Iraq will be a major ideological triumph in the struggle of the 21st century."(From Orange County to al Qaeda)

The death tolls in both conflicts are expected to rise.

"We've come a long way in Afghanistan. We've come a long way in Iraq and elsewhere in the war on terrorism," said Pace. "We have a long way to go. We are a nation at war."

A funeral is held August 25 for U.S. Marine Capt. John McKenna, one of more than 2,600 U.S. service members killed in Iraq.


• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide
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