Attrition: The Bloody Past


February 14, 2006: The casualty figures in Iraq (and to a lesser extent, Afghanistan) have gotten big play from the media. The total number of American personnel killed in the war on terrorism (since September 11, 2001), including both Afghanistan and Iraq, is 2,526, of which 1,910 have been killed in combat. Coalition forces have also suffered casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, suffering a total of 269 personnel killed in action. This makes for a total of 2,759 personnel killed in a war that has lasted just under three and a half years. The KIA figures run to about three every two days. Nearly a million troops have served in Iraq and Afghanistan so far.

To put these numbers into perspective, here are some casualty figures from various battles in the last century of warfare:

* On D-Day (June 6, 1944), the Allies lost roughly 2,500 men in a single day out of 156,000 troops who landed at Normandy.

* In the battle of Savo Island, the Allies lost 1,270 personnel in one night (August 8-9, 1942) out of the crews of five heavy cruisers and five destroyers (roughly 6400 personnel), a 20 percent casualty rate.

* The land battles during the Guadalcanal campaign (August 7, 1942 to February 9, 1943) killed 1,492 personnel in the six months (or roughly 8.28 dead per day) out of a force that numbered 29,000 (although American forces - the 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions, the Americal Division, and the 25th Infantry Division - rotated out during the battle, making this force much larger).

* In the battle of Belleau Wood in 1918, the United States suffered 1,811 killed in action in 25 days (June 1-June 26), or 72.44 per day out of a force of two divisions.

* At the battle of Tarawa, 1,009 personnel were killed in action in four days (November 20-23, 1943), or 252 per day out of a force of 35,000.

* During the Battle of the Bulge (December 16, 1944 to January 28, 1945), the Allies suffered 10,276 killed and 23,218 missing, or 239 killed per day out of a force of 500,000.

* During the Tet Offensive (January 30, 1968), American and allied troops lost 4,324 men killed in action out of a force of 500,000.

These figures place losses suffered during the War on Terror into perspective. In essence, these low casualties not only reflect a battlefield superiority in terms of the quality of troops (many of the coalition forces have much better training than the terrorists and insurgents), they also reflect improvements in battlefield medicine over the years. - Harold C. Hutchison ([email protected])




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