On Nightly News Wednesday we reported how rare it was for the President to issue a body count -- the number of enemy killed. He said it at the Pentagon, and it struck me immediately that it may have been the first time I've heard him issue such a tally of enemy killed.
It's been reported that the President has always been keenly interested in learning what the numbers are. Thursday, during the White House briefing, Tony Snow was asked why he gave an enemy body count.
Snow replied, "There is quite often the impression -- and I've talked about it up here, that our people aren't doing anything, they're just targets. And I think there's a certain amount of unease in the American public because they hear about deaths but they don't hear about what's going on... And one of the things they're doing is they're fighting the bad guys. And as Gen. Chirelli said recently, the bad guys haven't won a single battle. For obvious reasons, going back to the Vietnam era, people are loathe to do body counts. But it probably is worth at least giving a general impression of relative battlefield success of what's going on, which is a great many members of al-Qaida in Anbar and also people who are committing acts of violence in Baghdad and elsewhere are dying or being captured as a result of these military activities."
As one of my colleagues pointed out, U.S. officials have never made clear how many enemies there are in Iraq, nor is it clear that in a counter-insurgency campaign the number of kills is the metric that indicates success. What is clear is that the President is eager to demonstrate progress to Americans who are increasingly pessimistic about the war.