UK troops have been taking a pummelling in Afghanistan in the last few months. 2009 has been the worst year of the conflict for the UK army. 54 soldiers killed killed in action, 45 very seriously wounded.
As ever, when I hear hard numbers, I feel confused. More questions arise. Why is the UK army suffering so much? How are we faring compared to the other armies there? Are we taking a disproportionate amount of casualties? If so, why?
In an effort to find out, I used information on British dead and wounded supplied by The Guardian Datablog as a start point. I was suprised by what I found out…
The basic figures
If you look at the raw numbers, it does indeed seem true. 2009 is the worst year on record. We’re getting pummelled.
But, if you make the number proportional to the actual number of British troops deployed each year, the picture changes substantially.
The worst year is actually 2006. Then there were around 3300 UK troops in the arena. Today, in 2009, there are around 8500 troops on the ground, nearly 3 times more. But the casualties are not three times worse. With this in mind, we are doing actually “better” than it appears. Though obviously 2009 is not over.
If seriously wounded troops are also included in the figures, we see again that 2006 took a heavy toll on British forces.
Bar a terrible disaster, it seems unlikely that 2009 will be the worst year for British forces in Afghanistan. Fingers crossed.
Still, why are British troops getting so hammered? How are they doing compared to other forces in the arena?
Again, on the surface, it seems the US are taking the bulk of the casualties in the war.
However, again, if you re-calculate these figures as a proportion of the actual troops deployed by each country, the picture changes.
Canadian forces are actually suffering the most.
And, if you factor in wounded soldiers, a shocking picture emerges.
This is probably why the Canadian government is not releasing its wounded figures. (It took a leak to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to get the figures).
(Note: these wounded figures also include minor wounds)
How do the fatality figures stack up compared to other coalition forces taking part in Operating Enduring Freedom?
In a barely reported statistic, the Afghan army has suffered a shocking 3913 fatalties since 2006.
Looking at these figures, I became curious about private security contractors (i.e. mercenaries) active in Afghanistan.
That’s a huge amount of hired guns.
(A note on the figures used: wherever possible I have double-sourced numbers and figures used. All Wikipedia links have been double-checked also. Feel free to click around my (messy) Google Docs spreadsheet to double-check the figures. Thanks David).