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The U.S.-led coalition has killed more than 19,000 suspected militants since the insurgency in Iraq began, according to military statistics released publicly for the first time.

According to USA Today, the figures were culled from “significant acts” reports — or “sig acts” in military parlance — released after a Freedom of Information Act request by the newspaper to the U.S. command in Baghdad.

The statistics show that nearly 5,000 fighters have been killed so far this year, representing an increase of 25 percent from all of 2006, the paper reported. The increase is attributed to more aggressive tactics and operations since the beginning of the “surge” in American combat power.

Military officials have long eschewed “body counts” in the Iraq war, saying that the number of suspected enemy killed was not the most important measure of success or failure. Since Vietnam — when inflated numbers were seen as part of the political battle over the war — the military has been reluctant to publish counts.

In 2002, during the Afghan war, Gen. Tommy Franks famously declared, “You know we don’t do body counts.”

In daily press releases from Iraq, however, units have tallied the number of suspected enemy killed and captured during various raids. Until the USA Today report, however, there was no acknowledgment of a larger body count.

According to USA Today, the military’s figures show that since the spring of 2003, at least 19,429 militants have been killed in fighting with coalition troops. The statistics do not include enemy fighters killed during the invasion, the paper reported.

Stars and Stripes requested a copy of the report Thursday, but had not received an answer from the U.S. military command in Baghdad by deadline.

The USA Today story quoted Capt. Michael Greenberger, identified as a FOIA officer in Baghdad, as saying “the information in the database is only as good as the information entered into it by operators on the ground at the time. Follow-up information to make corrections is done whenever possible.”

Estimates on the number of enemy fighters in Iraq over the years have varied widely. Last year, then-Central Command chief Gen. John Abizaid estimated the number of Sunni insurgents as between 10,000 and 20,000, with Shiite militia members in the low thousands.

According to USA Today, the most militants killed in one month came in August 2004, when the militias of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr clashed openly with American troops in Najaf.

U.S. military officials have released civilian casualty numbers. In his September report to Congress, Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said civilian deaths caused by the war have gone down by 45 percent between December 2006 and August 2007 — from around 3,000 deaths per month to about 1,500 a month.

According to the Brookings Institution’s Iraq Index, a widely respected tally of numerous statistics, there are around 120 attacks on Iraqi civilians and coalition forces in Iraq each month. That index also shows that the numbers of Iraqis killed in 2007 remains well above any of the previous three years.

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