How many will be killed / wounded?
December 5, 2009 11:53 AM   Subscribe

Of the 30,000 additional troops President Obama has now committed to sending to Afghanistan, how many will be killed or wounded?

I'm having a hard time figuring out the statistics for casualties in the war. What are your odds of dying or returning wounded or returning with mental problems? It doesn't have to be super accurate, but I can't seem to find any numbers on what percentages of soldiers (out of the total combat forces) are killed / wounded.
posted by Baby_Balrog to Law & Government (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Thanks for the Saturday afternoon sermon help.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:54 AM on December 5, 2009

From the Association of the United States Army, in an article published in 2007: "The total mortality rate: 22.8 percent, WW II; 16.5 percent, Vietnam; and 8.8 percent in Afghanistan and Iraq."
posted by Houstonian at 12:03 PM on December 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

(How does missing-in-action, in your tags, play into the question?)
posted by Houstonian at 12:04 PM on December 5, 2009

Well... It's important to account for the fact that even today some soldiers bodies are never recovered and we never find out what becomes of them. Thanks for the help, Houstonian.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 12:07 PM on December 5, 2009

Jeez, that's 2640 deaths from combat or combat-related injuries. I suppose that's way high - I assume most of the 30,000 troops won't be exposed to combat? It's probably more complicated than simply taking 8.8% of the total number of troops - or am I overthinking it?
posted by Baby_Balrog at 12:10 PM on December 5, 2009

This is a bit macabre, but it's important to think about. The following historical US casualty numbers in Afghanistan were taken from this site. The troop levels were taken from this site (CNN).

Year .....US deaths......US troop level....Percentage

It's pretty difficult to predict this sort of thing, but I think it's likely that while the 30,000 troop surge is happening, US commanders are going to be pushing hard and fast to dislodge Taliban before whatever pullout deadline is set, so I think it's likely that casualty numbers will unfortunately be on the high end of the range.

Using the highest casualty percentage, I'd estimate around 150 of the 30,000 sent in the "surge" will be killed.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 12:16 PM on December 5, 2009

But yeah, it's extremely difficult to predict, and it's silly to pretend that's anything like accurate.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 12:17 PM on December 5, 2009

The Casualties of the Iraq War wikipedia entry might help, too.

I'm not sure what a Saturday sermon is, but if you are looking for a point of discussion about the consequences of Barack's decision to troops, I thought that the US Army article was interesting in its discussion of how amputees have gone up, due to land mines. It begs the question, what programs are in place to help these people when they return to civilian life and the civilian workforce, do those programs have adequate funding, and has the funding gone up or down in comparison with previous war times?
posted by Houstonian at 12:19 PM on December 5, 2009

I'm not sure what a Saturday sermon is ...

I think he means, "Thanks for helping me, on Saturday, prepare my Sunday sermon."
posted by jayder at 12:26 PM on December 5, 2009

If you read the article closely, this is the mortality rate of causalties in those wars, not mortality rate of all soldiers. Hence, the actual number is much, much lower than the 8.8% quoted.
posted by Brennus at 12:31 PM on December 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

The article Houstonian provides is very oddly worded in places. The sentences preceding Houstonian's quote deal with the ratio of mortalities to casualties (a casualty not necessarily being a mortality). I have no idea how the figures Houstonian quoted were calculated, though, since the article never really specifies what "total morality rate" means. It's not what you think it means, though.

Take the World War II figure: 22.8 percent mortality? Some 400,000 U.S. soldiers were killed in that war. But, just in the Army, more than 11 million served. Not to diminish the 400,000 lives lost ... but a 22.8 percent mortality rate would mean that some 2.5 million died in the Army alone. The numbers don't really add up.

I'd bet that Houstonian's figure has something to do, again, with the mortality rate among those injured, or something like that.

On preview, what Brennus said.
posted by SpringAquifer at 12:37 PM on December 5, 2009

Yes, you have to always watch what is meant by "casualty". Traditionally, and through the Vietnam war I think, it's always meant any soldier killed or injured enough to be removed from action: it's a lost "asset" that is no longer in play.

But in the last 20 years or so, it seems to me that more and more people (including the press) seem to use it only to mean killed-in-action.

One of the side effects of this is that "casualty rates" seem much lower than the ones that were reported in the past, and previously nonsensical things like "20 casualties, 44 wounded" are written everywhere.
posted by rokusan at 12:49 PM on December 5, 2009

Oh, and some of those stats I keep seeing are about casualty/mortality per year or per deployment, which is not the same as per soldier, since soldiers may serve subsequent tours across many years.

Not giving you a sharp answer, but something else to watch for, anyway.
posted by rokusan at 12:51 PM on December 5, 2009

Oh, and also, my "prediction" would be if the 30,000 troops stay in Afghanistan for one year.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 12:54 PM on December 5, 2009

I remember examining the casualty and mortality statistics a while ago, after reading somewhere that modern armor meant that while mortality was reduced, the number of casualties was still quite high.

Here is my naïve estimate:

There are a number of sites that track/aggregate casualty and mortality figures by month, such as this one:

Based on the statistics listed there for Nov 2008 - Oct 2009, 1850 service personnel were wounded and 524 killed. I couldn't easily find statistics on deployed troop levels by month, but they went from 33,700 in July 2008 to 68,700 in Nov 2009. Assuming a simple linear growth, that gives 51,200. That gives an injury rate of 0.0361 per person per year, and a mortality rate of 0.0102 per person per year.

If 30,000 additional servicepersons are deployed for one year, this suggests that ~ 1,084 will be wounded and ~ 307 killed, for a total casualty count of ~ 1,391.

Again, I'd like to stress that this is the most naïve estimate that can be made.
posted by enoent at 12:55 PM on December 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

Add some context to the piece. There were several single weeks in Vietnam and Korea where U.S. deaths outpaced all the deaths in Afghanistan to date.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:01 PM on December 5, 2009

And I don't say that to disparage anyone. Perhaps to remind people that the scars of Vietnam are still being felt today, and felt widely.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:02 PM on December 5, 2009

My mistake! I was using total (from all nationalities) casualties.

The corrected US figures should be 285 dead (0.00557 per person per year) and 1,084 wounded (0.0102) for Nov 2008 - Oct 2009.

The estimate of the number of 30,000 additional servicepersons killed or injured in one year should then be 167 killed and 1,084 wounded. The estimate for the *total* force of 98,700 would be 550 killed and 3,926 wounded.

That sounds exceptionally grim. I think I need to go do something cheerier than think about this now...
posted by enoent at 1:05 PM on December 5, 2009

I remember examining the casualty and mortality statistics a while ago, after reading somewhere that modern armor meant that while mortality was reduced, the number of casualties was still quite high.

I think it's less about armor and more about the medical supply lines. As in medicines to the front line and speedy evacs to hospital ships when necessary.

Compare this to information we know: loved ones purchasing body armor for troops and an article (In Wired?) claiming that this is the fastest most efficient medical supply line in world history.
posted by CarlRossi at 1:23 PM on December 5, 2009

Thanks folks! Tomorrow is Peace Sunday (second Sunday in advent) and so it was incredibly disheartening to hear Obama's decisions - especially now. Not to take it out on the folks in the pews, but I think it presents an opportunity to reflect on war... insofar as Advent is a fine time for reflection.
Done sermonizing. Good lord I'm starting to sermonize at all of you.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 1:58 PM on December 5, 2009

I expect it doesn't matter for your purposes, but a fuller understanding would take into account that even if those 30,000 troops were kept in the US, you would still expect some of them to die over the next year. Training accidents, industrial-style accidents (ie dropping a pallet of heavy things on someone), just having a heart attack and dropping dead.

You'd be interested in deaths from hostile action, and "nonhostile" deaths due to operational accidents (ie, your helicopter crashed while ferrying you to action).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:09 PM on December 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

The military use of the word "casualty" is confusing to many civilians. A casualty is any soldier who cannot do his duty, no matter why. It includes killed, wounded, men in the stockade, desertions, disease, MIA, psych, and anything else that keeps a man from doing the job he was sent there to do.

The 8.8% mortality rate quoted above means that 8.8% of all casualties are Killed In Action (KIA). It has nothing whatever to do with the death rate for all soldiers in the theater.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:18 PM on December 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I expect it doesn't matter for your purposes, but a fuller understanding would take into account that even if those 30,000 troops were kept in the US, you would still expect some of them to die over the next year.

According to enoent, the death rate is 0.00557 per person per year, i.e. from the 30,000 we'd expect 167 to die each year.

According to the social security administration the death rate for people aged 18 to 30 (front line soldier age?) is about 0.0013 per person per year, so if we left the 30,000 at home you'd expect about 40 to die each year.

So even if 167 do die each year, that's only 127 more than we'd expect to die just by chance.

Of course, all this relies on the assumption that twice as many soldiers means twice as many deaths - whereas I think the theory goes that with more soldiers America can "win" or "bring peace" or something, so the total number of casualties would fall. Or at least, I assume that's what Obama is thinking.
posted by Mike1024 at 4:00 PM on December 5, 2009

By the way, you can estimate the casualty figures directly from Houstonian and Salvor Hardin's numbers:

P(K) = probability of being killed in action = 0.5%
P(K|C) = probability of being killed in action, given you're a casualty = 8.8%
P(C|K) = probability of being a casualty, given that you're killed in action = 100%
P(C) = probability of being a casualty = P(K)P(C|K)/P(K|C) = 0.005/0.088 = 5.6%

30,000 troops at 5.6% casualties = 1704 casualties: 150 dead, 1204 wounded. This seems to agree well with enoent.
posted by Upton O'Good at 5:48 PM on December 5, 2009

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