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[casi] America's hidden battlefield toll,6903,1041722,00.html

America's hidden battlefield toll

New figures reveal the true number of GIs wounded in Iraq

Jason Burke in London and Paul Harris in New York
Sunday September 14, 2003
The Observer

The true scale of American casualties in Iraq is revealed today by new
figures obtained by The Observer, which show that more than 6,000 American
servicemen have been evacuated for medical reasons since the beginning of
the war, including more than 1,500 American soldiers who have been wounded,
many seriously.
The figures will shock many Americans, who believe that casualties in the
war in Iraq have been relatively light. Recent polls show that support for
President George Bush and his administration's policy in Iraq has been

The number of casualties will also increase pressure on Bush to share the
burden of occupying Iraq with more nations. Attempts to broker an
international alliance to pour more men and money into Iraq foundered
yesterday when Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, brusquely rejected a
French proposal as 'totally unrealistic'.

Three US soldiers were killed last week, bringing the number of combat dead
since hostilities in Iraq were declared officially over on 1 May to 68. A
similar number have died in accidents. It is military police policy to
announce that a soldier has been wounded only if they were involved in an
incident that involved a death.

Critics of the policy say it hides the true extent of the casualties. The
new figures reveal that 1,178 American soldiers have been wounded in combat
operations since the war began on 20 March.

It is believed many of the American casualties evacuated from Iraq are
seriously injured. Modern body armour, worn by almost all American troops,
means wounds that would normally kill a man are avoided. However vulnerable
arms and legs are affected badly. This has boosted the proportion of maimed
among the injured.

There are also concerns that many men serving in Iraq will suffer
psychological trauma. Experts at the National Army Museum in London said
studies of soldiers in the First and Second World Wars showed that it was
prolonged exposure to combat environments that was most damaging. Some
American units, such as the Fourth Infantry Division, have been involved in
frontline operations for more than six months.

Andrew Robertshaw, an expert at the museum, said wars also claimed
casualties after they were over. 'Soldiers were dying from injuries
sustained during World War I well into the 1920s,' he said.

British soldiers are rotated more frequently than their American
counterparts. The Ministry of Defence has recently consulted the National
Army Museum about psychological disorders suffered by combatants in previous
wars in a bid to avoid problems.

The wounded return to the USA with little publicity. Giant C-17 transport
jets on medical evacuation missions land at Andrews Air Force Base, near
Washington, every night.

Battlefield casualties are first treated at Army field hospitals in Iraq
then sent to Landstuhl Regional Medical Centre in Germany, where they are

Andrews is the first stop back home. As the planes taxi to a halt,
gangplanks are lowered and the wounded are carried or walk out. A fleet of
ambulances and buses meet the C-17s most nights to take off the most
seriously wounded. Those requiring urgent operations and amputations are
ferried to America's two best military hospitals, the Walter Reed Army
Medical Centre, near Washington, and the National Naval Medical Centre,

The hospitals are busy. Sometimes all 40 of Walter Reed's intensive care
beds are full.

Dealing with the aftermath of amputations and blast injuries is common.
Mines, home-made bombs and rocket-propelled grenades are the weapons of
choice of the Iraqi resistance fighters. They cause the sort of wounds that
will cost a soldier a limb.

The less badly wounded stay overnight at the air base, where an indoor
tennis club and a community centre have been turned into a medical staging
facility. Many have little but the ragged uniforms on their backs. A local
volunteer group, called America's Heroes of Freedom, has set up on the base
to provide them with fresh clothes, food packages and toiletries. 'This is
our way of saying, "We have not forgotten you,"' said group founder Susan

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