Suicides by US soldiers rose sharply in January, the US Army said Thursday, reporting seven confirmed and 17 suspected suicides in the first month of the year.
If all 24 deaths are confirmed as suicides, the count would exceed the number of US troops killed in combat last month in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
Four US troops were killed in action in Iraq in January and 12 in Afghanistan.
The latest statistics came just a week after the army reported that suicides among active duty soldiers hit a record high in 2008 for the second year in a row.
"Each of these losses is a personal tragedy that is felt throughout the army family," General Peter Chiarelli, army vice chief of staff, said in a statement.
"The trend and trajectory seen in January further heightens the seriousness and urgency that all of us must have in preventing suicides."
Chiarelli last week announced special army-wide training sessions beginning February 15 to raise suicide awareness among soldiers and their leaders.
The stress of combat and long absences from home are widely regarded as major factors in a relentless rise in suicide rates over the past four years.
The number of soldiers who took their lives in 2008 rose to as many as 143 from 115 the previous year, the army said.
Of the 2008 deaths, 128 have been "confirmed suicides and 15 are still being investigated for a determination," said Lieutenant Michelle Martin-Hing, a military spokeswoman, adding that on average, "90 percent of unconfirmed go on to be confirmed."
Last year's suicide rate among active duty soldiers rose to 20.2 per 100,000, surpassing a demographically adjusted national suicide rate of 19.5 per 100,000 in 2005, the latest year on record.
The army has responded to the growing problem with more suicide prevention programs, efforts to screen soldiers for mental health problems and campaigns to reduce the stigma that prevents soldiers from seeking treatment.