http://www.nzherald.co.nz/storydisp...news&thesubsection=world&thesecondsubsection= PHILADELPHIA - The American death toll in Iraq has surpassed the number of American soldiers killed during the first three years of the Vietnam War, the brutal Cold War conflict that cast a shadow over United States affairs for more than a generation. A Reuters analysis of US Defence Department statistics showed on Thursday that the Vietnam War, which the Army says officially began on December 11, 1961, produced a combined 392 fatal casualties from 1962 through 1964, when American troop levels in Indochina stood at just over 17,000. By comparison, a roadside bomb attack that killed a soldier in Baghdad on Wednesday brought to 397 the tally of American dead in Iraq, where US forces currently number about 130,000 troops -- the same number reached in Vietnam by October 1965. The casualty count for Iraq apparently surpassed the Vietnam figure last Sunday, when a US soldier killed in a rocket-propelled grenade attack south of Baghdad became the conflict's 393rd American casualty since Operation Iraqi Freedom began on March 20. Larger still is the number of American casualties from the broader US war on terrorism, which has produced 488 military deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Southwest Asia and other locations. Statistics from battle zones outside Iraq show that 91 soldiers have died since October 7, 2001, as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, which US President George W. Bush launched against Afghanistan's former Taleban regime after the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington killed 3000 people. The Bush administration has rejected comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam, which traumatised Americans a generation ago with a sad procession of military body bags and television footage of grim wartime cruelty. Recent opinion polls show public support for the president eroding as he heads toward the 2004 election, partly because of public concern over the deadly cycle of guerrilla attacks and suicide bombings in Iraq. Because US involvement in Vietnam increased gradually after the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, there is little consensus on when the war in Southeast Asia began. Some date the war to the late 1950s. Others say it began on August 5, 1964, when Lyndon Johnson announced air strikes against North Vietnam in retaliation for a reported torpedo attack on a US destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin. However, the Army's start date for the Vietnam War has been set by its Centre of Military History as December 11, 1961, when two helicopter companies consisting of 32 aircraft and 400 soldiers arrived in the country, an Army public affairs specialist said. "It was the first major assemblage of US combat power in Vietnam," Army historian Joe Webb said. Vietnam casualties, which amounted to 25 deaths from 1956 through 1961, climbed to 53 in 1962, 123 in 1963 and 216 in 1964, Pentagon statistics show. At the time, the US presence in Vietnam consisted mainly of military advisers. President John F. Kennedy increased their number from about 960 in 1961 to show Washington's commitment to containing communism. But not until September 1965, after Congress had approved the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, did Washington begin its massive escalation of the war effort. With a huge influx of soldiers, casualties in Vietnam soared to 1926 in 1965 and peaked at 16,869 in 1968, the year of the Tet Offensive, data show. In a major revision of US military history in 1995, former Defence Secretary Robert McNamara said he believed the Gulf of Tonkin torpedo attack never occurred. More than 58,000 US military personnel died in Vietnam before the war ended in the mid-1970s. In another comparison, British forces that created Iraq in the aftermath of World War 1 suffered 2000 casualties from tribal reprisals, guerrilla attacks and a jihad proclaimed from the Shi'ite holy city of Kerbala, before conditions stabilised in 1921, according to US military scholars. Reuters included military deaths both on and off the battlefield for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, for comparison with Vietnam War statistics that made no distinction between hostile and non-hostile casualties. On Thursday, US combat deaths totalled 270 for Iraq and 28 for other battle zones, including Afghanistan.