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U.S. troop deaths reach 3,000

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• NEW: Soldier was wounded in Al Anbar province
• NEW: Bush: American will not have "died in vain"
• NEW: 3,000th soldier died Wednesday in Texas military hospital
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CRAWFORD, Texas (CNN) -- A U.S. soldier died earlier this week of wounds suffered in a roadside bombing in Iraq, the Pentagon reported Sunday.

According to a count kept by CNN, the death of 23-year-old Sgt. Edward Shaffer, of Mont Alto, Pennsylvania, was the 3,000th American military fatality reported since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

Shaffer was wounded November 13, 2006 by a roadside bomb in the western Iraqi city of Ramadi, where U.S. troops and insurgents trade fire on a near-daily basis.

Shaffer was a member of the Army's First Armored Division, based in Friedberg, Germany. He died Wednesday at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, outside San Antonio, according to the military.

More than 22,000 other U.S. troops have been wounded in Iraq since the war began nearly four years ago.

The grim milestone arrived a day after the execution of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, whose government collapsed as U.S. troops entered Baghdad, and as President Bush ponders a change of strategy in the increasingly unpopular conflict. (Read full story)

President Bush has vowed that Americans killed in the nearly 4-year-old war will not have died in vain, the White House announced Sunday.

"The hardest decision the president ever has to make is to send our men and women into harm's way," White House deputy spokesman Scott Stanzel said in a statement released Sunday.

"The president believes that every life is precious and grieves for each one that is lost. He will ensure their sacrifice was not made in vain."

Commanders in Iraq announced that a U.S. soldier was killed Saturday in Baghdad, bringing the American death toll to 2,999.

More than 22,000 others have been wounded since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, according to Pentagon figures.

The war has also claimed the lives of about 250 allied troops, more than half of them British.

Estimates of Iraqi dead range from about 50,000 to several hundred thousand.

Bush initially argued the U.S.-led invasion was necessary to strip Hussein's government of stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and to halt efforts to develop a nuclear bomb -- programs Baghdad had been required to give up after the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

U.S. inspectors later determined Iraq had indeed dismantled its weapons programs during the 1990s, though its leaders had tried to conceal some weapons-related research from the United Nations.

Now, the administration says U.S. troops must remain in Iraq to protect the country's new government from a persistent insurgency and a wave of sectarian violence, which has raged for most of the past year.

Bush has repeatedly called Iraq the "central front" in the war on terrorism, which began after the al Qaeda's terrorist network's 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.

"We will be fighting violent jihadists for peace and security of the civilized world for years to come," Stanzel said. "The brave men and women of the U.S. military are fighting extremists in order to stop them from attacking on our soil again."

The U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, where remnants of al Qaeda and its Taliban allies are still battling U.S. and NATO troops five years after the attacks, has claimed 353 American and 156 allied lives.

The independent commission that investigated the 9/11 attacks found no "credible evidence" that Iraq had aided al Qaeda in the attacks, which killed 2,749 people.

But Islamic militants loyal to al Qaeda have joined the insurgency against American troops in Iraq and have launched numerous attacks on Iraqi civilians since the fall of Baghdad.

Observers say improvements in body armor and battlefield medicine have helped limit the death toll.

The 1950-53 Korean War left more than 36,000 Americans dead and more than 100,000 wounded, while the Vietnam War claimed 58,000 American lives and left 153,000 wounded between 1964 and 1973.

The war in Iraq has now lasted longer than U.S. involvement in World War II, which claimed more than 405,000 lives as the United States and its allies battled Germany, Japan and Italy.

Lance Cpl. Beeler was killed in action December 7 while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar province, Iraq.



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