US military policy before the 8 November attack on Falluja had halted the announcing of marines' deaths shortly after they took place.

"We changed our policy in mid-October, deciding not to issue press releases on a casualty because we did not want to aid the enemy in determining the success of their actions,"
Colonel Jenny Holbert, a spokeswoman with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in Iraq, said by e-mail on Thursday.

Seventy-one US troops died in the fierce urban combat of a marine-led Falluja attack along with an estimated 1200 to 1600 anti-US fighters, the US military said.

"We changed our policy in mid-October, deciding not to issue press releases on a casualty because we did not want to aid the enemy in determining the success of their actions"

US military statement

"Now, since operations have slowed down, we are taking few casualties and the enemy has been severely disabled, we will go back to publishing releases as casualties occur," Holbert
said.

The October policy change meant that the first public acknowledgment of a marine's death came days later when the Pentagon issued a news release identifying the deceased after next-of-kin notification.

Difficult to monitor

The policy made it hard to assess US casualties on a day-to-day basis and gauge the level of fighting to expel American and other foreign troops from Iraq.

Holbert said that it had "seemed sufficient to leave the announcement to [the Department of Defence]. We believed this would provide enough time away from the event that the information would have little value to the enemy".

Even as the marines ceased announcing deaths as they occurred, the US army stuck with its policy of issuing news releases through US Central Command detailing fatal attacks
against its soldiers in Iraq.

Pentagon record defended

Spokesman Bryan Whitman defended the Pentagon's record on public disclosure of military deaths.

US forces said 20 troops were
killed recently

"It would simply not be true to assert that the Defence Department is in any way trying to keep hidden the human cost of combat," Whitman said.

"It's still always a concern that you don't want to announce directly to your enemy how and when they're being effective in producing casualties," Whitman added.

The Pentagon announces the name of every US service member killed in Iraq after the various branches of the military get formal notification of the death and the next-of-kin is notified.

Congress has required that the Pentagon not release the name of any deceased soldiers until at least 24 hours after the family is notified.

During the attack, the marines gave a periodic toll for US troops in the operation, but it was two weeks between the last two casualty updates.

Holbert said another reason for the October policy change was that marine officials sometimes did not receive immediate formal documentation of a death from the battlefield, and that the delay in making the announcement of a death "confused the situation with the media".

She said there may still be such delays occasionally, but "we hope to eliminate any confusion".