Attrition: The War On IEDs


July 14, 2010: Last month, the 140,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan suffered 102 combat deaths. At an annual rate, that's 874 dead per 100,000 troops per year. But combat deaths tend to peak during the Summer months. Thus the rate for all year will be closer to 500-600. NATO troops, and particularly the United States, are making a major effort to detect IEDs (improvised explosive devices, or roadside bombs), which have accounted for up to 60 percent of deaths among foreign troops. About $1.5 billion worth of special equipment is arriving in Afghanistan this year, doubling the amount of specialized gear used for detecting IEDs, and identifying the personnel making, placing and setting off the bombs. Another thousand specialists are arriving to operate the special detection and intelligence programs.

As a result, the proportion of combat deaths caused by IEDs has already declined this year, from 60 percent of all deaths, to closer to 50 percent. The anti-IED effort is expected to continue reducing the deaths from bombs. The number of foreign troops killed in Afghanistan has been going up because there are more foreign troops in Afghanistan, and more of them are out looking for Taliban gunmen and drug gang operations. Both these endeavors often lead to gun battles.

In 2007-8, foreign troops in Afghanistan lost about 300-400 dead per 100,000 troops. That went up to nearly 500 last 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. During World War II, Korea and Vietnam, American troops suffered losses at the rate of about 1,500 killed per 100,000 troops per year.



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