It was an unusually brutal spring in Iraq. With at least 220 dead, April and May combined for the bloodiest two-month stretch for U.S. forces since the war began. The spike in casualties is the result of the troop "surge," chiefly into hostile parts of Baghdad, a move opposed by a number of senior generals before it was announced last winter. Now President George W. Bush is under mounting pressure from members of his party to prove the effectiveness of the surge by summer's end or risk having his allies turn on the policy. The fear, G.O.P. officials privately admit, is that the party could face an even greater wipeout in next year's elections than it suffered in 2006.
There are signs that some troops may be voting with their feet. Planners at the Army Human Resources Command have detected an increasing shortfall in the number of junior officers, particularly captains, who are willing to stay in the service. Captains are to combat units what quarterbacks are to football teams: they lead, direct and decide the details of nearly every operation on the ground. By the time they approach re-enlistment, most captains have about eight years in uniform and are the most experienced officers who still work directly with new recruits. "If you start losing company-grade officers, that has a long-term, deleterious impact," said Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who is himself a former Army captain.
One Army memo, written in May, projects that the service will lack half the seasoned captains it needs next year. To help slow the dropout rate, the Army has offered a $20,000 re-enlistment bonus. Senior officers have been encouraged to pull younger ones aside and encourage them to stay. "There is a captain shortage," said an Army spokeswoman. "We're doing what we can. We have a lot of deployments."