Attrition: Why Britain Bleeds More

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July 23, 2012: In the last year British troops in Afghanistan have been getting killed at twice the rate (1,300 per 100,000 troops per year) as Americans during the height of the fighting in Iraq. Canadian troops, until they withdrew from combat, had an even higher rate of loss. But the U.S. has a lot more troops in Afghanistan. Thus total combat deaths since late 2001 are: U.S.-2,050, Britain-422, and Canada-158.

The British military describes "major combat" as an operation where losses (killed) were greater than 600 per 100,000. Thus only recently did British losses go north of 600. There are several reasons for these different death rates. For one thing, a higher proportion of British and Canadian troops in Afghanistan are in combat. The Americans handle a lot more of the support functions and thus a smaller proportion of the U.S. force is combat troops. Finally, the U.S. had more helicopters for moving troops and a much larger number of MRAP (bomb resistant vehicles) for troops moving on the ground.

Over the last five years 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 brought in vehicles designed to protect passengers against the bombs. The U.S., which used this strategy successfully in Iraq, brought in MRAPs more quickly and in larger numbers 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.

Despite the higher casualty rates for the British and Canadians, the overall death rate for foreign troops in Afghanistan is still lower than it was in Iraq. In the last four 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 in Iraq four years ago, the U.S. death rate in Iraq has dropped to less than 200 dead per 100,000 troops per year within two years and to nothing by the end of 2011 (as the last Americans troops left). Meanwhile, the rate in Afghanistan peaked at 400 dead per 100,000 troops in 2010 and has been declining ever since.

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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