Article Archive: Current 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
 Latest
 News
 
 Most
 Read
 
 Most
 Commented
 Hot
 Topics
Attrition: Why 4,000 Wasn't 13,747
   Next Article → ISRAEL: The Other Two-State-Solution
March 31, 2008: Five years of fighting in Iraq has killed 4,000 American troops. The first five years of fighting in Vietnam (1965-69) killed 40,258. There were about three times as many U.S. troops involved in the Vietnam fighting. But even then, the number of Americans killer per thousand troops in Vietnam was three times higher (19, versus 6 in Iraq). If the casualty rates were the same in Iraq, there should have been 13,747 dead so far. However, there were proportionately more wounded in Iraq. While there were 3.4 times more dead in Vietnam (in killed per thousand troops), there were only 3.2 times more wounded. Overall, there were 133 casualties per thousand troops in Vietnam, versus 47 in Iraq. Why the lower casualty rate? There are several reasons, few of which have gotten much coverage in the mass media. But the reasons are important.

 

The most important difference is that the troops in Iraq are fighting smarter. While the Vietnam era troops were representative of the general population, the Iraq era army is all-volunteer and highly selective. The troops are smarter, healthier and better educated than the general population. This has been the case for three decades, and during that time, new attitudes have developed throughout the army (which always got most of the draftees). The army, so to speak, has become more like the marines (which was always all-volunteer, and more innovative as a result). This ability to quickly analyze and adapt gets recognized by military historians, and other armies, but not by the media. It also saves lives in combat.

 

This innovation has led to better training, tactics and leadership. Smarter troops means smarter and more capable leaders, from the sergeants leading fire terms (five men) to the generals running the whole show. Smarter troops leads to tactics constantly adapting to changes on the battlefield. The better tactics, and smarter fighting, has been the biggest reason for the lower casualty rate.

 

Then there's the body armor. Improvements over the past decade, in terms of design and bullet resistance, account for about 20 percent of the decline in casualties. There's a down side to this, as the body armor is heavier and cumbersome. This reduces a soldiers mobility, and increases casualties a bit (and saves some enemy lives as well.)

 

Medical care has gotten better. Not only are procedures more effective, but badly wounded soldiers get to the operating table more quickly. Medics now have capabilities that, during Vietnam, only surgeons had. All this is one reason why the ratio of wounded to killed was 6 in Vietnam, compared to 7.3 for Iraq.

 

Better weapons and equipment. GPS guided weapons have made the biggest difference. There are now GPS guided bombs, shells and rockets. This enables troops to hit a target with the first shot, and be closer to the explosion (the better to move right in and take care of armed enemy survivors). Another benefit is much fewer civilian casualties. In both Iraq and Vietnam, the enemy frequently used civilians as human shields. And then there was night vision gear. This first appeared during Vietnam, but in four decades, the stuff has gotten better, lighter and cheaper. Every soldier has night vision now, as do most combat vehicles.  There are better radios, better uniforms, even better field rations.

 

The Internet enabled the troops get in touch with each other. This made a big difference. Not just for the grunts, but also for the NCOs and officers. Each community had different problems and solutions. With the Internet, they could easily discuss the problems, and quickly share the solutions. The troops did this by themselves, and it was up to the military to play catch up. Life saving tips are passed around with unprecedented speed. This made a major difference in combat, where better tactics and techniques save lives.

 

Computers and video games.  The draft ended about the same time that personal computers and video games began to show up. So there have been three decades of troops who grew up with both. It was the troops who led the effort to computerize many military activities, and video games evolved into highly realistic training simulators. The automation eliminated a lot of drudge work, while the simulators got troops up to speed before they hit the combat zone. Computers also made possible doing things with information, especially about the enemy, that was not possible before. A lot of troops understand operations research and statistical analysis, and they use it to good effect. There are a lot of geeks with guns out there.

 

UAVs and Trackers. For 90 years, the troops on the ground depended on someone in an airplane or helicopter to help them sort out who was where. In the last decade, the guy in the air has been replaced by robots. UAVs, especially the under-ten-pound ones every infantry company has, now give the ground commander his own recon aircraft. He controls it, and it works only for him. Combat commanders now have a top-down view of his troops, and the enemy. This has made a huge difference, creating some fundamental changes in the way captains and colonels command their troops. For higher commanders, the GPS transponders carried by most combat vehicles, provides a tracking system that shows a real-time picture, on a laptop screen, of where all your troops are. This takes a lot of uncertainty out of command.

 

Living conditions. Some civilians think air-conditioned sleeping quarters for combat troops, and lots of other goodies in base camps, is indulgent. It is anything but. Getting a good nights sleep can be a life-saver for a combat soldiers, and AC makes that possible. Showers, Internet links to home and good chow do wonders for morale, especially for guys getting shot at every day. Good morale means a more alert, and capable, soldier. The combat units often go weeks, or months, without these amenities, but the knowledge that these goodies are there, and eventually to be enjoyed, takes some of the sting out of all the combat stress. The rate of combat fatigue in Iraq has been much lower  than in Vietnam, or any previous war.

 

The Iraqi enemy is not as effective as the Vietnamese were.  Partly this is due to cultural factors, partly because in Vietnam, the North Vietnamese were sending trained soldiers south. The North Vietnamese also had commandos ("sappers"), who, while small in number, caused a lot of anxiety among U.S. troops. The irregular (Viet Cong) troops in South Vietnam, where largely gone after 1968 (as a result of the failed Tet Offensive), but even these fighters tended to be more deadly than the average Iraqi gunman. The Iraqi troops have had a dismal reputation for a long time, but they can still be deadly. Just not as deadly as their Vietnamese counterparts. The lower fighting capability of the Iraqis saved lots of American lives, but got far more Iraqis (including civilians) killed.

 

A decade from now, historians and pundits will be all over the "military revolution" U.S. troops created in Iraq. But for now, you heard it here first.

 

 

Next Article → ISRAEL: The Other Two-State-Solution