Tag Archives: Casualties

US casualties: better sooner than later, it’s the only way they’re coming home

Chinook helicopter interior
Massive setback in Afghanistan, Special Forces Chinook shot down causing a record number of American deaths, thirty, two dozen of them Navy SEALs. Is this Obama’s plan to draw down our forces, by attrition? The night raid truncation is the biggest withdrawal over ten years. Plus side of course, it’s fewer Afghan civilians those soldiers would have killed.

A record number of US soldiers killed at once. Yeah, we don’t usually get confirmation so early, but Afghan President Karzai bypassed the usual censors and announced the catastrophe. So war-cheerleaders are scrambling for a silver-lining, and this is what they found. They assure war fans that the shoot-down of the Chinook didn’t kill any of the SEAL Team 6 patriots who bum-rushed Osama bin Laden.

Because, I don’t know, would that have made it worse? Because we don’t want it to look like Osama was avenged? Unfortunately the specificity would seem to imply that Navy SEALs are more valued than ordinary soldiers.

Actually, it’s curious, because we’re not told who was on that team, nor who died yesterday, so who’s to know? The military doesn’t even know if they were gay or not.

Karzai circumvented the usual casualty reporting protocol that’s succeeded for a decade now in obfuscating the US death toll in our wars. Deny early reports, pretend you need more time to confirm the deaths, wait until actual expiration of fatally injured casualties, and if they’re under the command structure of NATO, pretend they’re not American at all. Such a process draws out the impact of having to declare the death toll when it occurs. If Karzai hadn’t intervened, the Chinook casualties could have dribbled out over a week. Three or four a day would be no great shakes for Afghanistan these days.

Remember when a truckload of female MPs hit an EID the first year in Iraq? I didn’t think you would. It was the largest group loss of female soldiers in US history, but it wasn’t, because the DoD confirmed the deaths individually over days.

If journalist wanted to report US casualties in Afghanistan honestly, they need only check with the other nations participating in the occupation. The US is the only partner which has declared a policy of not acknowledging its dead. In the event of unclaimed NATO casualties, they’re American.

How many dead US soldiers does it take to screw in a light bulb?

It’s hard not to get excited when the Afghans are able to fell nine US soldiers with one stone. But am I glad about the US deaths? I am not. For one, the latest helicopter crash means “2010 is deadliest year of war in Afghanistan.” For US/NATO troops. No mention as usual about Afghan dead. Do we not embarrass ourselves with this insensitivity? I’m guessing the record high in occupier casualties means a several- fold deluge of victims too, but that isn’t marked by this milestone.

Our callous policy of not keeping count, means there can be no milestones for the innocent dead.

Opponents of the war are accused of gloating over US deaths, but what’s the point? Neither wounded, nor killed, funerals public or not, caskets shown or not, have swayed even the parents and military families from pumping their fists for continued war.

You wonder if the Department of Defense even has to try to disguise US casualties, calling them first NATO casualties, then US-led forces, and finally after the fact, American soldiers.

Will it take PTSD suffering vets killing their spouses, families and coworkers before America decides the war is taking too great a toll?

American deaths become simply as senseless as Afghan or Iraqi, tragic and lamentable. If there’s any silver lining, it’s the hope that America will run out of soldiers faster than it can ensnare more.

So how many dead US soldiers does it take to screw in a light bulb? I’m thinking metaphorically of the light bulb above the head which recognizes the profound error America has made in spreading war to Iraq and Afghanistan, the eureka moment when the average American decides enough is enough. The answer obviously, is not yet enough.

Greg Mortenson brings war to Pakistan

Three Cups of Tea, now Stones Into Schools author Greg Mortenson saw stones turned against Americans as the US suffered its first soldier casualties from an IED in the northwest boarder region of Pakistan. The US troops were training the paramilitary Frontier Corps, mercenaries hired to protect the all-girls schools built by Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute and USAID to which local Muslims and the Taliban take such umbrage. Oh, and lots of teenage girls were killed and injured too.

You thought Pakistan was already seeing plenty of casualties? Well except for a US contractor killed in a hotel bombing, all the deaths have been Pakistani civilians, killed by the score in daily air strikes by US drones.

NATO: First the good news…

Afghanistan
The accessorizing of the headline with this map reminds of the body counts reported from Vietnam to temper the news of GI casualties, body counts which we understand now were grossly contrived. The same has held true for Iraq and Afghanistan. We don’t know if it’s “dozens,” or whether even the enemy were combatants, women or children. At least the three US soldiers didn’t die in vain.

The pornography of prosthetics

Amputee pornIt was unavoidable. With untold thousands of US men and women returning from Afghanistan and Iraq with missing limbs, somebody was going to want to see that naked.
 
I wanted to see the naked figures. Specifically, how many servicemen have been injured, how many of them maimed? Strangely, those statistics are not exposed. Not accounting our soldiers’ sacrifices, to spare a public’s waning jingoist sensibilities, is the real exploitation.

The closest I could get were FOIA documents forced from the VA by Veterans for Common Sense. Current through May 2009, here are the figures as I understand them:

Of 1,101,971 total GWOT veterans, there are 405,022 veterans filing disability claims. (While we’re at it, let’s mention the VA records 4,702 in-service deaths, and 5,621 post-service deaths.)

Sorting past the 49,325 veterans who suffer “Limitation Of Flexion Of Leg” and 41,544 who have “Limited Motion Of The Ankle,” there are 10,179 who’ve applied for Traumatic Injury benefits. This number might include soldiers who’ve lost a limb, but only among the soldiers who were insured.

Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance Traumatic Injury Protection (TSGLI) is a rider under Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) that provides for payment to any member of the uniformed services covered by SGLI who sustains a traumatic injury that results in certain severe losses. Through May 31, 2009, 10,179 active duty servicemembers and veterans have applied for TSGLI. Of those, GWOT veterans filed 7,091 claims and 4,409 of those received benefits

I imagine medical supply companies must know the number of artificial limbs they’ve sold to the DoD or to the VA.

Who owns images of American dead?

vietnam-wounded-marineAP photographer Julie Jacobson was reticent to publish her picture of dying US Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard. Though his father was opposed, the Associated Press overruled. But this was no victory for the public’s right to see a true reflection of war. The D.o.D. is still indignant, but I suspect Jacobson’s report was ultimately vetted in their favor. Military propagandists need to represent America’s growing losses in Afghanistan. Jacobson’s image provides their limited hangout. Like the other photographs of casualties which have escaped through embeds, the image of Lance Corporal Bernard is desaturated of blood, and the surrounding events fit the military endorsed narrative.

Have you noticed that all combat images coming out of today’s wars are drab and lifeless. Obviously this motif is not being applied to the PR shots of jets and military hardware, but scenes of soldiering in Iraq and Afghanistan are dusty and grey, like scenes from a dark virtual world.

The colors in Jacobson’s controversial photo are similarly under saturated. Earlier casualty pics have even been rendered as black and white, and this is no exercise of artistic license. Colorless images telegraph little resemblance to our real world lived in color. An emotional distance is created, most obviously like the detachment we feel looking into the past. Everything before the late sixties happened in monocrome. Early color photographs always shock children with the prospect that lives in generations past might have been been lived in a world of contemporary vibrance.

The photographs from Vietnam were helped by that nation’s lush tropical greens. Images of the wounded were all the more gripping –and demoralizing from the military’s point of view– because unlike in Korea and WWII, the blood was red.

Most images taken in Vietnam came through the military staff photographers. The unapproved subjects, which subverted the official face of the war, emerged from the cameras of independent journalists.

dying US marineJulie Jacobson facilitated the release of this picture, by letting slip two details pertinent to the official US narrative in Afghanistan. Would you believe, just prior to this engagement, friendly Afghans came out of their houses to tell the US soldiers where they could find the Taliban? Probably to ensure Corporal Bernard’s squad pointed their guns away from their homes, but that’s not how the story was spun. Jacobson recounts that these Afghans were eager to inform on the Taliban.

The jocular Jacobson records another telltale crowd-pleaser in the aftermath of the Taliban “ambush,” when she found herself flanked by Afghan National Army troops. When the firing started, Jacobson sought immediately the ranks of US soldiers, because the freakin’ ANA Afghans “aren’t very good.”

Today’s media embeds are basically a privatized signal corps. Their photos should belong to the taxpayers. Insinuations that military families should dictate what images can be used, in the event of death, is a cruel irony. Are the families consulted about what Uncle Sam wants to do with their loved one when he’s still alive? Millions of federal tax dollars are spent on our soldiers, all the more when they die. I have little sympathy for the families who couldn’t stand up for their children and protect them from the capricious whims of our military. There is absolutely no reason to ask their permission about what happens when their little soldier meets his/her calculable fate.

Nawabad Afghanistan civilian casualties

Oops. US military spokesmen have had to do an about-face on their account of the NATO air raid on Nawabad which may have killed in excess of 60 Afghan children. It turns out a western doctor on the scene the next day made a video record on his cell phone which depicted more bodies than the US Special Forces had admitted, by a factor of too many.

UN and Afghan representatives are calling for an investigation into the over 90 casualties. Their counts are corroborated by the villagers and eyewitnesses. The official US and NATO casualty figure is still eight. This is the number recorded by the ISAF soldiers and corroborated by an embed reporter, working for none other than Fox News, and being none other than Oliver North!

Howabout an unexpurgated face of war

Forbidden image of a dead US soldierThe US media was not permitted to depict fallen soldiers, in or out of the coffin. Next military censors forbade photos of US wounded. Most recently US soldiers have been under orders to prohibit the press from photographing them at all, to promote the illusion that our Iraqi surrogates alone are handling security. How infuriated our officials must have been to see this photograph in the international press.

Do Americans not want to see their fallen boys? In my recent experience with death, I most certainly wanted to see what happened straight up. Do the families of soldiers really not want to see how their loved one met his/her fate? What utter bullshit! If they don’t I do. Someone should care enough for the poor lost life!

Hopefully the total control our military has been asserting over media images will result in more outright mutiny on the part of international photo journalists.

Not long ago, a sequence of photos which documented the aftermath of an IED led the DoD to forbid all depictions of even wounded soldiers. The picture below shows a victim trying vainly to join his comrades who made it to cover. He didn’t die. But this image most certainly is dispiriting to Americans watching safely from their homes, who are losing their stamina for an ugly war.

Last permitted photo of a wounded US soldier

Before coverage of operations in Iraq were safely controlled by only embedded reporters, freelance photographers were able to record images reminiscent of WWII, Korea and Vietnam. These GIs fell in the assault on Fallujah. Fortunately for the Pentagon, Iraq is now too dangerous for journalist who don’t have American minders.
US casualties in Fallujah

A recent so-called breach of an embed contract yielded images of the aftermath of a suicide-bomb attack. The American photographer incurred heavy criticism for publishing the pictures which his Marine unit had ordered him to erase. But they were published in B&W, which invokes the famous WWII Pacific Theater dead, but it does lessen the realism, doesn’t it? These casualties seem more distant than our losses in Vietnam. And how do you reconcile that the simultaneous photos of the Iraqi casualties were printed adjacent in color? We can handle seeing the red of their blood, but not ours?

Dead US Marines