Bring Them Home Now
P.O. Box 91233
Raleigh NC 27675
Thursday, August 14th, 2003
Dear Bring Them Home Now,
I am writing to you on the subject of U.S. casualties in Iraq. I have been writing to people in Washington to oppose the so-called “War on Terror” since it began, and this is a version of a letter I sent to veterans groups and members of the Senate Armed Services Committee last week.
In this letter, I describe what appears to be a historic change in the proportion of wounded soldiers who are surviving their injuries, thanks to effective body-armor, improved battlefield medicine, the “low intensity” of the conflict and other factors. The letter goes on to describe how the Pentagon and the media have used this new development to facilitate substantial under-reporting of casualties. I will include a copy of the article that brought this to my attention, by the Washington correspondent of the British newspaper, the Guardian.
In a recent edition of the United Services University Department of Surgery Academic Review, Professor Hasan B. Alam wrote “On average, approximately 20% of combat casualties die in the field. This number has not changed since the American Civil War.” However, in the current conflict in Iraq, it does appear that this ratio has in fact changed quite dramatically for the better.
The daily reports from Iraq have generally included only “combat deaths” and that total now stands at 169, but the higher figure of total deaths suffered by U.S. forces in Iraq is 266. Figures on the wounded are a lot harder to come by, and a recent official Pentagon figure of 827 is contradicted by other sources. CentCom in Qatar has given a figure of 926, and Lieutenant-Colonel Allen Delaney, who supervises incoming medical airlift operations at Andrews AFB, recently told NPR, “Over 4,000 have stayed here at Andrews, and that number doubles when you count the people that come here to Andrews and then we send them to other places like Walter Reed and Bethesda”. He added that 90% of these injuries were directly war-related. Only half of these casualties date from before the “end of major combat operations” on May 1st, while half are the result of the subsequent guerilla war. These numbers include a small amount of double counting, whenever individual wounded soldiers have passed through Andrews more than once in the course of multiple transfers.
If these figures are anywhere close to the truth, the proportion of casualties dying in the field has been reduced from 20% in previous conflicts to possibly as low as 4% in Iraq. This is a great accomplishment for force protection and military medicine, and good news for all of us, especially those with loved ones currently serving in the armed forces.
The other side of this equation, though, is the new reality that, for every combat death reported by the media, there may be as many as 40 young Americans suffering wounds that are serious enough to warrant being airlifted back to the U.S. The Pentagon has acknowledged 12 to 20 attacks on our troops each day, so these numbers don’t seem unrealistic. The absence of public disclosure and details of this new reality is leaving us all in the dark as to the price that our young people are in fact paying for the policy that we are pursuing in Iraq.
We must insist that the Department of Defense make public more complete and detailed casualty figures from this conflict. While they have a legitimate interest in protecting personal details of injuries to individual service people, we all have an overriding interest in knowing the human cost of the policies we vote for or against through our democratic process, and we need to understand what is happening to our troops in Iraq.
Please ask for answers to the following questions:
How many of our troops have really been wounded in Iraq?
How many have suffered lost limbs or permanently disabling injuries?
How many have required treatment in hospitals outside Iraq?
How many of these injuries have occurred in each phase of the conflict?
How has the pattern of casualties been affected by the advent of effective body armor?
What other changes have occurred in the nature of casualties in this conflict?
Through civilian control of the military, our soldiers place their lives and their futures in our hands, and we owe it to them to take this responsibility very seriously. The administration’s policy of continued military occupation of Iraq is not the only one available to our country at this difficult time. People and governments all over the world would welcome a request from our government for the United Nations to supervise a political transition in Iraq and a withdrawal of U.S. forces. We need to be better informed of the human costs of our current policy.
P.S. Lieutenant Colonel Delaney at Andrew AFB would obviously be a good starting point if you want to follow up on this, but he is likely to be under more pressure to keep quiet since he spoke to NPR. On the other hand, he may actually need some kind of support and assistance that your group could give.