2008: While 4,300 U.S. troops have died
in Iraq, 19 percent of those fatalities are from non-combat causes. Most of the
non-combat deaths are from accidents and disease. One of the major categories
of non-combat death is vehicle accidents. In 2007, 20 percent of the non-combat
deaths were from vehicle accidents. But in 2008, overall deaths declined by two
thirds (from 904 in 2007, to 312 in 2008), but vehicle accident deaths went
from 37 to 19.
The U.S. Army
expected vehicle accidents to decline even more in 2008, because the number of
terrorist incidents went down by 80 percent. Many vehicle accidents were the
result of the fast driving tactics troops were encouraged to use to get away
from roadside bombs and ambushes. Ask the NCOs, and they will often complain
that the sharp reduction in combat has removed the incentive to stay sharp and
pay attention. Not a unique situation in a combat zone, and despite the
energetic exhortations of the NCOs, too many troops do not stay alert enough to
avoid accidents. Ask the troops, and they complain about the heavier traffic.
With peace breaking out all over central Iraq, and the economy continuing to
boom, more Iraqis have cars. Iraqis drive like they're from Boston, with
abandon and indifference.
military experts around the world are still trying to make sense of how the
United States has kept its casualties so low in Iraq and Afghanistan. To put it
in simple terms, you were three times more likely to be killed or wounded in
Vietnam, versus Iraq. And then there is the mystery of higher non-combat deaths
in Afghanistan. In Vietnam, and Iraq, 19 percent of the deaths were from
non-combat causes (accidents, disease, for the most part.) During World War II,
25 percent of the dead were non-combat. In Afghanistan, 29 percent of the
deaths were non-combat. Best guess it's the greater variety of diseases, and
nasty terrain (including the atrocious roads).
U.S. did was put in well trained, led, armed and motivated troops and then
supported them lavishly. Civilians were hired to do a lot of the menial jobs.
Much effort was put into getting to know the local culture, and avoiding
civilian casualties. That eventually won over enough Iraqis to undercut support
for Islamic radicals (mostly Sunni Arabs angry at no longer being in charge,
and minority Shia groups keen on setting up a Shia religious dictatorship).
the diseases and safety situation in Iraq is improving, there's still a way to
go in Afghanistan. The many diseases, bad roads, hills and mountains will
remain for some time to come. Afghanistan will remain a dangerous place, even
if no one is shooting at you.