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Monday, May 19, 2008

Tallying War's Costs and Strains

A selection of some of the latest OEF/OIF-reported stats. First up, from yesterday's New York Times editorial board:

Repeated, long deployments have put unsustainable stress on troops and pose significant risk to the all-volunteer military. Some 1.6 million troops have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001; many of them have deployed to the war zone for three or four tours. Fifteen-month combat tours, followed by only 12 months of home leave, put incredible stress on families and make it hard to train for the next mission.

President Bush and the Congress favor expanding the number of ground forces. The Army has already had to reduce its standards to meet recruitment quotas. In 2007, only 79 percent of recruits had high school diplomas, down from 92 percent in 2003. The Army is also granting an increasing number of so-called “moral” waivers — given to recruits with criminal histories ranging from marijuana use to felony convictions.

Retaining the best and most experienced war fighters is getting harder. The Army has only 83 percent of the majors that it needs. It has offered bonuses of up to $35,000 to keep captains from leaving, promoted junior officers at an unprecedented rate and allowed senior officers to serve beyond mandatory retirement dates.

Nearly one-fifth of the troops — some 300,000 men and women — have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan reporting post-traumatic stress disorders; only half have sought mental health treatment, in part because many feel it will derail careers, according to a study by the RAND think tank [full pdf : summary pdf]. That leaves countless service members susceptible to depression and suicide. ...

The National Guard, whose primary task is to protect the homeland and respond to disasters, has only about 61 percent of its equipment because the rest is overseas. The Pentagon’s acquisition process is so flawed that dozens of the most costly weapons program are billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule, according to a recent study by Congress’s Government Accountability Office.

In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.

Stop-loss figures from USA Today:

[Defense Secretary Robert] Gates, in an interview Friday, said he's concerned about the Army's stop-loss policy, which can keep a soldier in the service if his or her unit deploys within 90 days of the end of the soldier's commitment. The Army maintains that it uses stop-loss to ensure the integrity of units headed to war. About half of the soldiers affected are mid-level non-commissioned officers.

"I've been very worried about stop-loss ever since I got here and found out what it was," Gates said. "I sent the Army a memo a year ago this spring asking for their plan to reduce stop-loss. Unfortunately, my decision to go to 15-month tours just made it impossible for them to achieve that."

President Bush's decision to send an additional 30,000 troops to Iraq prompted Gates to order combat tours to be extended from 12 to 15 months. The number of soldiers affected by stop-loss, rose from 8,540 in May 2007 to 12,235 in March. The last of the additional soldiers sent to Iraq will return home this summer. That should allow the number of troops affected by the policy to decline beginning in September, Gates said. ...

USA TODAY reported last week that more than 43,000 U.S. troops since 2003 were sent into combat even though they had been listed as medically unfit in the weeks before their scheduled deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Recruitment waiver stats from CNN:

Pentagon statistics show the Army granted 511 felony waivers in 2007, just over twice the 249 it granted the year before. The Army aims to recruit more than 80,000 new soldiers a year. The Marines -- which recruits fewer new service members each year than the Army -- also reported a rise in waivers for felonies, with 350 granted in 2007, compared with 208 in 2006. ... He said the Army never issues waivers for some types of offenses, including sexual violence, alcoholism and drug trafficking.

But the Pentagon statistics showed the Army allowed 106 convicted burglars to enlist in 2007, up from 36 the year before. It also granted waivers to 43 recruits convicted of aggravated assault that year, up from 33 a year before; and to 130 people convicted of possession of drugs other than marijuana, a rise from 71 in 2006. It also allowed two people convicted of making terrorist or bomb threats to enlist in 2007, up from one the year before.

The Marines did not immediately respond to request for comment. The Navy reported a slight decline in felony waivers, from 48 in 2006 to 42 in 2007. The Air Force said it granted no felony waivers in either year.

TBI and mental health numbers from The New Republic:

An astounding 60 percent of troops entering Walter Reed Army Medical Center suffer from brain trauma as their primary or secondary malady, typically the result of an improvised explosive device. The physics look something like this: A roadside bomb sets off a blast wave that travels at a speed of 1,600 feet-per-second toward a soldier's vehicle. On impact, the blast rattles the soldier's brain against his or her skull--often leaving no visible scratches, but prompting closed-head traumas that can be hard to diagnose: torn cerebral tissue, internal bleeding, and relentless swelling of the brain's inner cavities. ...

[The RAND study] highlighted a less widely-covered trend: Some 320,000 troops returning from both wars are plagued by traumatic brain injuries--again, with only half seeking treatment.

Army Suicide stats from CNN:

Every day, five U.S. soldiers try to kill themselves. Before the Iraq war began, that figure was less than one suicide attempt a day. The dramatic increase is revealed in new U.S. Army figures, which show 2,100 soldiers tried to commit suicide in 2007. ...

According to Army statistics, the incidence of U.S. Army soldiers attempting suicide or inflicting injuries on themselves has skyrocketed in the nearly five years since the start of the Iraq war. Last year's 2,100 attempted suicides -- an average of more than 5 per day -- compares with about 350 suicide attempts in 2002, the year before the war in Iraq began, according to the Army. ...

The Army lists 89 soldier deaths in 2007 as suicides and is investigating 32 more as possible suicides. Suicide rates already were up in 2006 with 102 deaths, compared with 87 in 2005. ... Traditionally, the suicide rate among military members has been lower than age- and gender-matched civilians. But in recent years the rate has crept up from 12 per 100,000 among the military to 17.5 per 100,000 in 2006, she said. That's still less than the civilian figure of about 20 per 100,000, she said.

The "typical" soldier who commits suicide is a member of an infantry unit who uses a firearm to carry out the act, according to the Army.

Surge stats from the New York Times:

Seven active-duty Army brigades have been scheduled to deploy to Iraq later this year, the Defense Department announced yesterday, a plan that would allow U.S. commanders to keep troop levels at about 140,000 through the end of the Bush administration and into the next president's term.

The deployments will be part of the regular rotation of troops into Iraq and will come on the heels of the "surge" of troops, which is expected to end this summer. The increase of troops in Iraq -- which topped out at about 170,000 -- is expected to go down to 140,000 by the end of July. U.S. officials plan to keep 15 combat brigades in Iraq through the end of the year, though ongoing assessments could allow commanders to change those numbers.

The brigades that will deploy come from the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii and Alaska, the 4th Infantry Division in Colorado, the 1st Infantry Division in Kansas, the 82nd Airborne Division in North Carolina, the 173rd Infantry Brigade in Germany and the 1st Cavalry Division in Texas. All have prior experience in Iraq, some with multiple tours. About 25,000 troops will take part in the deployment, which will be limited to 12 months under current Pentagon policy.

Combat-related Iraq attack figures from AP:

The U.S. military is reinforcing the sides of its topline mine-resistant vehicles to shore up what could be weak points as troops see a spike in armor-piercing roadside bombings across Iraq, The Associated Press has learned.

The surge in attacks is putting the mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs) to the test, and so far they are largely passing. Statistics reviewed by the AP show that while bombings involving the deadly penetrating explosives have jumped by about 40 percent in the past three months, deaths in such bombings have dropped by as much as 17 percent.

Officials attribute much of the decline in deaths to the increased use of MRAPs, pronounced "M-raps." To date, about a half-dozen troops have died in incidents that involved the new bomb-resistant vehicles, and several of those deaths occurred in rollovers rather than from explosives penetrating the armor. ...

According to military statistics, in the past three months:

_ EFP incidents in Iraq jumped by nearly 40 percent, while casualties related to those attacks went down by about 17 percent.

_ Overall roadside bomb incidents in Iraq increased about 10 percent, while casualties dropped by more than 40 percent.

_ Roadside bomb incidents in the Baghdad area, including Sadr City, rose by about 20 percent, and casualties went up 30 percent. Fighting spiked recently due to battles with Shiite militia members in Sadr City.

_ In the Baghdad area, EFP incidents increased by about 17 percent, while casualties fell by 43 percent.

Officials said that the bulk of the casualties around Baghdad during April were the result of the armor-piercing explosives.

Attacks in Afghanistan from Globe and Mail:

Data collected by security consultant Sami Kovanen, of Vigilant Strategic Services Afghanistan, show a steady increase in insurgent attacks in the first 14 weeks of 2008, with every week except one recording a higher volume of incidents than the same week in the previous year. Then, in the 15th to 18th weeks [during the annual spring harvest of poppy fields for opium production], the number of attacks dips down in a lull similar to the calm before previous fighting seasons. Over all, however, VSSA had counted 226 insurgent attacks in Kandahar this year, as of May 4, compared with 167 during the same period last year, leading some analysts to predict that this fighting season will bring more violence than the last.

Casualty and media coverage info from the Boston Globe:

The death toll for the US military in Iraq hit 49 in April, making it the deadliest month since September, according to the Associated Press. Around Iraq, at least 1,080 Iraqi civilians and security personnel were killed last month, an average of 36 a day, according to the AP tally. While that's down from March's total of 1,269, or an average of 41 per day, those casualties certainly don't add up to a stable Iraq.

But Iraq isn't getting the prominent play of other news topics. The latest statistics from the Project for Excellence in Journalism back up the conclusion that coverage of the Iraq war is on the decline.

The Washington-based research organization studied roughly 1,300 stories from 48 news outlets during the month of April. The group's analysis found that during that time frame, the top news story was the presidential campaign, which accounted for 33 percent of news coverage. The economy came in second, accounting for 6 percent. The pope's visit accounted for 4 percent of the coverage, and the Texas polygamy case garnered another 4 percent.

Even as violence in Iraq increased, events on the ground in Iraq accounted for only 3 percent of news coverage, and the Iraq policy debate accounted for another 3 percent. In April 2007, the Iraq policy debate was the second biggest story at 8 percent; and events on the ground in Iraq accounted for another 7 percent of the news, according to Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

And finally, the Iraq tally from Michael Hastings for the LA Times:

Iraq often gets treated by pundits, writers and politicians - all those thoughtful cheerleaders turned war critics - as an intellectual exercise. It's not. Hundreds of thousands live personally with its consequences every day. The tens of thousands of Iraqis who've been killed, the families of 4,074 American servicemen and women killed, the more than 900 contractors killed, the more than 29,000 U.S. wounded. The individuals who make up such statistics - and those who loved them - understand what the war actually costs.

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