A Christmas day explosion pushed the number of American troops killed in Iraq above the Sept. 11, 2001, death toll, prompting one father of a slain soldier to call for an end to the war.
"I want the boys to come home," said Robert Lootens, whose son, Jonathan, was killed in October on his second tour of duty. "Personally, I can't see where we're really accomplishing anything over there anymore."
The White House said Tuesday that President George W. Bush grieves for each member of the U.S. armed forces who has died in Iraq and that he will ensure that the sacrifice of those killed _ 2,978 as of Tuesday afternoon _ will not be in vain.
"The war on terror is going to be a long struggle," said deputy White House press secretary Scott Stanzel. "The challenge of our generation is to prevent an attack on our country even greater than 9/11 from happening again."
The bomb explosion Monday, which killed two soldiers south of Baghdad, raised the number of troops killed to 2,974 since the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003, according to a count by The Associated Press. Terrorists hijacked jetliners on Sept. 11, 2001, and crashed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field, killing 2,973 people.
The rising death toll was an emotional reminder of loss for family members of Sept. 11 victims, some of whom said the war had gone on long enough.
"I just would like this war to stop in whatever way we need to," said Sally Regenhard, whose son Christian, a firefighter and Marine, died at the trade center. "I can hardly tolerate it when I see these beautiful people. It reminds me of my son. ... These people are being massacred."
But other Sept. 11 family members declared support for the effort.
"We are engaged in a fight for the free world against a determined enemy and casualty numbers should not weaken our resolve," said Debra Burlingame, whose brother, Charles, was the pilot of the plane that crashed into the Pentagon.
Charles Wolf, whose wife, Katherine, died at the trade center, said it was inappropriate to compare the two numbers because the war in Afghanistan was the only direct response to Sept. 11.
As of Friday, at least 296 members of the U.S. military had died in and around Afghanistan as a result of the U.S. invasion of that country in late 2001.
"The war in Iraq was not a response to 9/11, but a response in the bigger picture of terrorism," Wolf said. "I really don't think that one has a bearing on the other."
Bush has said that the Iraq war is part of the United States' post-Sept. 11 approach to threats abroad, and that going on the offensive against enemies before they could harm Americans meant removing the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, pursuing members of al-Qaida and seeking regime change in Iraq.
Democratic party leaders have pointed out that there has not been any credible evidence linking Iraq to the Sept. 11 attacks and have said the war in Iraq detracted from efforts against al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.