US Casualties in Iraq: Gustafson
Erik Gustafson writes:
“Setting the record straight, sort of…
Last week Clive Astle wrote, “Molly (Ivins) appears to have omitted counting the number killed but unidentified pending notification of kin. Total US dead is reported at 1012 as at end of August…”
Clive is double counting some U.S. military deaths. In doing so, he alarmed a number of concerned Americans into believing that the administration was withholding the 1,000+ fatality figure until after the Republican convention. Allow me to explain why Clive’s number is wrong.
Consider the following example. On Monday the Pentagon reports 10 U.S. soldiers died in Iraq. On Tuesday, the Pentagon reports that 5 soldiers died and identifies the names of 7 soldiers. The 7 soldiers named are among those who died on Monday – they are not new fatalities. Thus, the total number of U.S. fatalities for the two days is 15, not 22. Without knowing how the DoD keeps track of deaths, Clive may have double counted U.S. fatalities.
Although it’s important to remember that the Pentagon releases only “official numbers.” These numbers often exclude the deaths of special operations personnel, intelligence agency personnel, or other personnel involved in clandestine operations. With that proviso, I believe the official fatality count (1,005 as of 9/9/04) is generally accurate.
Of course, U.S. military deaths are only part of the total number of U.S. casualties we are suffering in Iraq. And judging from the numbers, these other casualties are clearly being under-reported by the Pentagon.
The military is ONLY counting soldiers it classifies as “wounded in action.”
Historically, casualty counts have always included injuries and illnesses. After all, a person who becomes ill or injured in a war zone is just as much a casualty (unable to pull the trigger) as someone who is shot. In prior wars, soldiers were more likely to die or be medically evacuated due to disease than from combat (malaria, for example).
DoD is also being highly selective about what it calls “wounded in action.” For example, if a convoy is ambushed and a Humvee rolls over without getting hit by a bomb or bullets, severely injuring the driver and his gunner (broken bones, paralyzed), then DoD will often exclude the soldiers in their count of wounded. The soldiers are simply listed as injured and medically evacuated. There is no official report of wounded in action and no Purple Heart Medal is awarded.
A Mississippi congressman blew the whistle on this last year, but the national press missed it….
In March, United Press International ran an article about the 18,000 soldiers medically evacuated from Iraq as of March 13, 2004. That’s far more than the 7,000 wounded the DoD reports.
Here’s another article describing how the Department of Veterans Affairs counted 33,000 Iraq and Afghan war veterans seeking healthcare. Obviously, not all of these are related to the war. However, the fact that 33,000 have sought care already is highly alarming.
Everybody killed, wounded, injured or ill in the war zone should be counted as a casualty. The press should demand a full accounting of how DoD defines their casualty counts — the dead, wounded, injured, and ill. To show real support for our troops, I encourage folks to call their representatives and demand a GAO investigation.
And we must not forget the toll the conflict is having on Iraq’s civilian population. According to Amnesty International and others, more than 10,000 civilians have been killed since the war began. The number of total Iraqi deaths may be as high as 30,000. ”
Erik K. Gustafson, Executive Director
EPIC | Education for Peace in Iraq Center
1101 Penn. Avenue SE | Washington, DC 20003 USA
tel. 202.543.6176 | fax 202.543.0725