Attrition: It's Safer Getting Shot At

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January 21, 2010:    American and NATO troops in southern Afghanistan are finding that they are safer during a firefight with the enemy, than when they are driving around in their armored vehicles. That's because the enemy has resorted more to roadside bombs and anti-vehicle mines, than in confronting foreign troops directly. In response to this bomb strategy, foreign troops are bringing in vehicles designed to protect passengers against the bombs. The U.S., which used this strategy successfully in Iraq, is bringing in most of the MRAP (bomb resistant vehicles), and has the most helicopters (to carry troops by air). As a result, NATO allies in the south have higher casualty rates than U.S. troops. British forces suffer a casualty rate 44 percent higher than the Americans, while the Canadian rate is twice as high. Part of this is due to British and Canadian troops being in more hostile areas more often, but much of it is because of the American MRAPs and helicopters.

Despite the greater use of roadside bombs in the last year, the casualty rate for foreign troops is still lower in Afghanistan, than it ever was in Iraq. This is largely due to the lower skill levels among terrorist leaders. Despite much money and effort, the roadside bomb campaign in Afghanistan is not nearly as lethal as the one in Iraq was. The Taliban apparently misread the experience with roadside bombs in Iraq (where they failed to dislodge the foreign troops), and persist in their belief that every bomb casualty weakens the resolve of the foreign governments, and will eventually lead to the withdrawal of the foreign troops. You'd get this impression by paying attention to the foreign media. But in the long run, those foreign governments have a more troublesome problem with Afghanistan, and that's the growing quantity of heroin coming out of there. This is causing more and more grief in the West. Leaving Afghanistan alone means doing nothing about the heroin supply, and this will eventually become politically unacceptable. Most Western politicians are aware of this, even if the media that reports on them is not (or, at least, is not admitting it yet.)

The casualties in Afghanistan are also being misinterpreted. In the last two years, foreign troops in Afghanistan lost about 300-400 dead per 100,000 troops per year. In Iraq, from 2004-7, the deaths among foreign troops ran at 500-600 per 100,000 per year. Since al Qaeda admitted defeat there two years ago, the U.S. death rate in Iraq has dropped to less than 200 dead per 100,000 troops per year. Meanwhile, the rate in Afghanistan is headed for 400 dead per 100,000 troops this year. For Afghan troops and police, the death rate is about 800 dead per 100,000, and this year is headed for 800 or more. The death rate for U.S. troops during Vietnam, Korea and World War II, was over 1,500. Better body armor, tactics, training, weapons and medical care have all contributed to a sharp reduction in fatal losses.

 


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