Prague, 4 August 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Marines are considered to be elite U.S. troops, so their recent deaths raises particular concern over how U.S. military operations are going in western Iraq.
Haditha, the town where the Marines were killed, lies along the main highway from the Syrian border. It is part of a network of towns through which insurgents allegedly funnel money and weapons into Iraq to sustain their anti-coalition and antigovernment campaign.
Jonathan Lindley, a researcher for the Middle Eastern program at the Royal United Services Institute in London, told RFE/RL the attacks might indicate only a couple of successful operations by the insurgents and nothing more.
The casualties focus new attention on a longtime Marine complaint -- the lack of protection provided by their armored amphibious vehicles.
"It's all almost inevitable that some attacks will be successful on a large scale," Lindley said. "And it is certainly politically embarrassing and uncomfortable, but it is not likely to fundamentally affect U.S. or Iraqi policy.
Jeremy Binnie, a Middle East analyst with Jane's "Sentinel" in London, agrees that the attacks will not change the overall situation in the country. He says roadside attacks like the one that killed the 14 Marines and their interpreter do not require sophistication.
"They were -- from the insurgents point of view -- just quite lucky to inflict that many casualties on the Americans on this particular attack," Binnie said. "Obviously, they built a very large bomb and used it effectively against this comparatively vulnerable armored vehicle."
The casualties focus new attention on a longtime Marine complaint -- the lack of protection provided by their armored amphibious vehicles. Binnie says the vehicles are designed to be dropped from ships for coastal assaults. Although fast and maneuverable, they have armor plating that is lighter than those used by the U.S. Army.
The analysts call more disturbing the attack in which six Marine snipers were shot dead. The snipers were moving in two three-man teams when they were surrounded by insurgents and engaged with small-arms fire. A rebel group, the Al-Sunnah Army, claimed responsibility for the attack.
Binnie says snipers are an elite force even among the Marines and normally would have few problems in a fight with insurgents.
"The Marine Corps considers itself pretty tough and these [sniper units] consider themselves tougher than an average Marine," Binnie said.
He added that it would be surprising if the Marines didn't give a good fight to the attackers, and it is unknown how many of the insurgents were killed in this particular incident.
However, other analysts say that by the nature of their mission, snipers are usually outnumbered, separated from the main force (although in contact with it), and vulnerable if caught in the open.
U.S. Brigadier General Carter Ham told a Pentagon briefing on 3 August that the Marines were killed this week by "a very lethal and, unfortunately, adaptable enemy."
At least 1,821 members of the U.S. military have died since the Iraq war began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.For the latest news and analysis on Iraq, see RFE/RL's webpage on "The New Iraq".