Casualty Count a Casualty of Poor Reporting

A persistent rumor circulating around the World Wide Web is that official United States sources are underreporting U.S. casualty counts in Iraq. Upon investigation of this rumor, I discovered that several news organizations are responsible for these reports. They appear to be unrelated to each other, but all contain a common anti-American thread. Perhaps the two most egregious sources are Al Jazeera and the Russian website

Reports emanating from the Department of Defense (DoD) appear to give accurate numbers for both combat-related casualties and accidental casualties. Furthermore, the DoD splits out deaths from injuries, so that anyone with sufficient interest can report on these numbers. It does take a bit of work, however, since these numbers are not listed in tabular form, but are contained within several paragraphs of narrative that detail the circumstances of the casualty count.

What appears to be happening in newspapers and broadcast organizations across the country is a selective reporting of combat-related deaths that pays little attention either to injuries or to accidental deaths. As a result, the public really is getting a skewed picture of the human cost of this adventure. But the distortion is not caused by any element of the government. Instead, it is being fostered by uneven news reports.

Al Jazeera and the Russian website have reported on this misinformation, but they both carefully avoid pointing an accusing finger at anybody except the U.S. government. Their reports only say that the total casualty number is about twice that being released by the Bush Administration. The actual information being released by the DoD lists casualties as combat related or accidental, and even indicates when there is a question about the exact nature of a specific death.

What are these numbers?

Compiled from various sources:

* 261 American dead since the commencement of hostilities, through Aug. 11, 2003.

* 827 American injured since the commencement of hostilities, through Aug. 5, 2003.

What is not readily available are numbers relating these casualty counts to the deaths and injuries that happen throughout the military under normal non-combat situations. In general terms, one U.S. military person dies daily somewhere within the total military operations conducted by the United States . Currently in Iraq , the combat-related death rate is approximately 1.3 per day.

Seen in this light, the U.S. casualty count in Iraq is astonishingly low, barely exceeding the death rate one would expect under normal circumstances, even if there were no war. This is significant, especially in the light of the alleged growing “concern” within the U.S. population being reported by various news outlets.

Although most news outlets have completely ignored the number of injured, currently it appears that approximately 1,500 injuries have been sustained as a direct or indirect result of combat operations. These injuries range from cuts and bruises requiring treatment to major loss of limb. This number is about twice as high as the officially reported number, probably because it includes all injuries, whereas the official number tries to cite only injuries that are clearly combat related.

The bottom line is that the American people really do receive accurate information on combat casualties, although there seems to be an uncoordinated effort by the media to play down the actual numbers. Those media members with serious agenda issues are having a difficult time changing the minds of anyone but their diehard followers, who already sing their tune as loyal members of their choir.

Operation Iraqi Freedom retains its position as a conflict with one of the lowest casualty counts ever.

Robert G. Williscroft is DefenseWatch Navy Editor

Submariner, diver, scientist, author & adventurer. 22 mos underwater, a yr in the equatorial Pacific, 3 yrs in the Arctic, and a yr at the South Pole. BS Marine Physics & Meteorology, PhD in Engineering. Authors non-fiction, Cold War thrillers, and hard science fiction. Lives in Centennial, CO.

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