It was among the worst months for casualties as the insurgency stepped up.
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- June was one of the deadliest months of combat for U.S. troops since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq 28 months ago.
At least 68 U.S. soldiers, Marines and sailors were killed by hostile fire in Iraq, the fifth highest number since the war began, according to Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, a Web site that compiles official casualty reports. The June total could continue to rise as troops die from wounds sustained during the month.
The deaths came as Iraq's insurgency continued fighting what increasingly appears to be a war with two fronts: one targeting the U.S. presence in Iraq and another aimed at stoking civil war through attacks on the nation's government, security forces and majority Shiite population.
In total, 1,744 U.S. troops have died in the war, 1,349 from enemy fire.
After a lull following national elections in January, insurgent attacks have grown more deadly.
The 68 troop deaths are the highest since November 2004, when 125 U.S. troops were killed by hostile fire, many during intense combat in Fallujah.
At the close of 2003, U.S. commanders put the number of insurgents at 5,000. On Thursday in Baghdad, U.S. Brig. Gen. Donald Alston said there were between 15,000 and 20,000 insurgents, though he said not all of them fight every day.
As of June 27, insurgents launched more than 70 car bombings during the month, according to the U.S. military. While that figure was below that of the two prior months -- at 81 each -- it's more than any other month since the war began in March 2003.
Lt. Col. Steven Boylan, a top U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said the insurgency continues to evolve.
"The enemy we are fighting is a learning enemy and reacts to what we do just as we react to what they do if they change tactics," he said. "It is a continuous cycle of action, reaction, counteraction and counter-counteraction."
The number of daily attacks against troops with the U.S.-led coalition had dropped to the 30s after national elections in January, but they're now back at about 70 a day.
Attacks on Iraqis have also increased. A blistering round of car bombs and assassinations killed more than 1,675 Iraqis after the nation's interim government was seated April 28, according to icasualties.org.
"They've gone to more spectacular systems that can inflict more casualties per attack," said Alston, who added that the shift might be because insurgents can't sustain large ground attacks.