Friday, November 13, 2009

90,000 casualties - but who's counting?


Antiwar | Usually, there is nothing more powerful than a personal story to pound home the cost of eight years of war overseas, but I think today there is something even more disturbing to bear.

It’s the number 89,457 [.doc].

As of Nov. 9, that’s how many American casualties there were in Iraq and Afghanistan since Oct. 7, 2001, when the Afghan war officially began. That includes a tire-screeching 75,134 dead, wounded-in-action, and medically evacuated due to illness, disease, or injury in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), and 14,323 and counting in Afghanistan, or Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).

That it may sound incredible – even unreal – is understandable. Early attempts to effectively count casualties (outside of battlefield fatalities) had been in earnest, then erratic, but finally dead-ended, frustrated by the Department of Defense, which has always been loath to break down and publicize the data on a regular basis.

One stalwart has always been Veterans for Common Sense (VCS), a nonprofit advocacy group dedicated to advancing the health and readjustment of returning soldiers and veterans. They’ve been diligently aggregating the statistics over time, and thanks to their diligent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, they can provide casualty reports at a level of detail not currently seen on the DOD’s publicly accessible Web site, DefenseLink.mil.

If we could access the data more easily, more people would know that 196 servicemembers took their own lives while serving in Iraq between March 2003 and Oct. 31, 2009, and there were 35 such suicides in Afghanistan. (These figures, of course, do not include the skyrocketing cases of suicides among all active-duty soldiers and veterans and cases of self-inflicted injury outside both war zones.)