As America awoke yesterday to the grim New Year milestone of 3,000 military deaths in Iraq since 2003, a Pentagon study shows the majority of those killed were young, white and from rural backgrounds.
It also reveals that, while four out of five roadside booby-traps now fail to inflict losses, the devices are becoming more lethal and those that hit their targets are killing more soldiers than ever.
A total of 43% of fatalities in the past 12 months were caused by bombs. This compares with 16% in 2003.
Deaths in 2005-06 were overwhelmingly among 18 to 24-year-old white, regular troops at 58%, with ethnic Hispanics making up 11% of the overall losses.
Most of those killed were from rural, farming communities scattered from backwoods Louisiana to Ohio and the Great Plains states of Dakota and Wyoming.
Despite spending hundreds of millions of pounds on ways to counter booby-traps—known as improvised explosive devices—and requesting almost £2bn in the coming year for new technology, the Pentagon admits it has not found the answers.
Christine DeVries, a spokeswoman for the US military’s IED countermeasures’ organisation, said: “The enemy has had some success in adapting to what we are doing.”
New bombs employing infra-red detonators, sophisticated pressure switches and remote-controlled devices are continuing to pose challenges for military scientists.
The insurgents are also becoming more adept at concealing the bombs and are planting more of them to disrupt supply convoys and deterrent patrols. More than 1,200 bombs exploded in the US sector in August alone.
While better body armour, improved medical techniques, and heavily-protected vehicles have cut the death rate, more soldiers are surviving wounds that would have killed them on earlier battlefields.
Almost one in three of the troops injured in the Second World War died later of their wounds. That dropped to 24% in Vietnam. Now almost everyone who survives being evacuated from a blast site to a military hospital and immediate trauma surgery lives.
Many of the 22,000 soldiers wounded since 2003 survived, but have amputations or brain injuries.
The analysis also shows that 20% of those who have died in Iraq were involved in traffic accidents or helicopter crashes caused by mechanical problems due to bad roads and sand damage to engines and rotor blades.
Almost 100 soldiers have also been killed by accidental discharges from their own or a comrade’s weapon.
As reported by The Herald last week, 70 American female soldiers have also died. They make up 2% of the overall losses.
Only 22 women, almost all nurses, died in the Second World War. Only one was killed in Vietnam and just five in the 1991 Gulf war.
By March, Iraq will qualify as America’s third-longest conflict after the War of Independence in the 1770s and Vietnam. Involvement in Iraq has already exceeded the time spent fighting in the Second World War.
US fatalities in previous major conflicts were: Vietnam: 58,000, Korea: 36,000, WW2: 405,000 and WW1: 116,000.
Although the Pentagon declared in December the struggle in Iraq was now predominantly a battle between Sunni and Shi’ite groups fighting for sectarian and political influence, the incidence of attacks on US forces increased by 22% between mid-August and mid-November.
British forces have suffered 127 deaths from all causes since the invasion in 2003.