Low Casualties

Low Casualties:

I am glad to see someone finally picking up on this. I remain astonished at how low casualties in Iraq have been, considering the numbers of troops, the numbers of operations, and the fact that there has been continuous resistance for more than a year. Back in April, when there was heavy rumor of a draft, I wrote this at FreeSpeech:

Here you can find the official DOD figures for OIF as of 9 April. As you can see, including DOD civilian contractors, there have been 652 American killed and 3269 wounded during OIF. Of the wounded, 1137 were returned to duty within three days. The number not RTD within the three day period was 2,132; of these, some were sent home, and others returned to duty after rehabilitation.

(Compare with Afghan operations, btw, which are just below, and you'll notice that the Afghan theater is actually far more deadly. We've had about 1/6th the casualties, with a force 1/15th the size. Note also that OEF lists KIAs in unspecified areas 'other than Afghanistan.')

To keep the math simple, let's assume that all soldiers not returned to duty in three days don't return to duty at all. 2,784 combat losses out of a force level that approximates 150,000 means that we have lost 1.856 percent of forces deployed in Iraq.

This is not accurate, however, due to troop rotations--I MEF fought in the invasion, rotated out and was replaced by 82nd Airborne, then rotated back in; 3rd ID rotated out over the summer, but 4th ID rotated in, etc. 150,000 is the approximate number of troops in country at any given moment, but the actual number of American soldiers who have served in Iraq this year--that is, who have given the enemy a chance to kill them--is far higher. As a result, the loss level is much lower than the almost-two-percent we calculated above. I'm not sure what the exact numbers are for all forces, so I can't calculate the exact level, but my impression is that it would be around one percent.

Any military that can't keep up with a wartime loss rate of two percent is in trouble--and as I said above, our rate is lower than that, especially if you take into account the troop rotations. We have no need to consider a draft.
The Sage of Knoxville picks up an article from Strategy Page that says the same thing in a different way:
American combat losses continue at a historically low level. Since March, 2003, American troops have suffered 7,900 casualties (including 976 dead.) This is an unprecedented killed to wounded ratio of 1:8. In past wars, the ration had been 1:4 or 1:5. American combat deaths over the Summer were 42 in June, 54 in July and 66 in August. There are the equivalent of three American combat divisions in Iraq, each running several hundred patrols and other combat operations each day. Never have combat divisions, operating in hostile territory, kept their casualties this low. The news media, concentrating on any losses as the story have generally missed the historical significance of the low casualties. The American armed forces have developed new equipment, weapons and tactics that have transformed combat operations in an unprecedented way. This is recognized within the military, but is generally ignored, or misunderstood, by the general media.
I suspect that the reason this doesn't get much play is that it is misunderstood, rather than ignored. We've talked about the media's lack of understanding of military science before (many times), and this looks like one more effect of it.

There may be an additional cause: media outlets may be afraid that, by talking about the remarkably low loss rates, they could appear to be downplaying the value of those who have died. The fact that the military has learned to fight with so few casualties is of tremendous importance to you if you are the mother of a Marine; but if you are the mother of a Marine who was killed yesterday, hearing about how few Marines die will not comfort you. Sensitivity to the dead may be a primary cause of this underreporting. If so, it's a noble reason to underreport.

However noble, it is the wrong tribute to pay to the dead. The focus on rising numbers makes it more likely that the American public will misunderstand Iraq as a losing war, rather than a war that we are winning, but which will take time. This underreporting makes it more likely that the American people could vote to withdraw forces from Iraq before the war is won. The cost of this tribute to the dead would be, finally, that they died in vain.

That is no kindness.

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