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Ministers accused over casualty figures cover-up in Iraq and Afghanistan

UK Daily Mail | August 16, 2007
MATTHEW HICKLEY

Ministers are covering up the extent of combat injuries suffered by British troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was claimed last night.

Many soldiers are being patched up and sent back to the front line without ever appearing in official casualty reports.

Campaigners insist British troops are paying a much higher price on the battlefield than is being made public.

Their claims came as Ministry of Defence statistics showed deaths and injuries among UK forces have soared over the past year as fighting intensifies in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The number of British fatalities per month in Iraq has more than doubled in 2007 compared with last year. Combat deaths per month are up 46 per cent in Afghanistan.

Battlefield casualties needing hospital treatment each month have more than trebled in Iraq and almost trebled in Afghanistan.

But the MoD only counts a soldier as 'wounded' in published figures if he is admitted to the largest UK field hospital in each country.

Serving soldiers claim many combat troops suffer cuts, burns or other injuries and are patched up at forward bases rather than being flown to the main field hospital for surgery or intensive care.

The U.S. issues more comprehensive figures, counting wounded troops as those away from frontline duties for 72 hours or more.

Pentagon casualty reports for Iraq show 27,279 personnel wounded and 3,699 killed by the start of August - a ratio of 7.4 wounded for each fatality.

Yet British figures to the end of July show 164 killed and 267 wounded in action - a ratio of only 1.6 wounded for each fatality.

For Afghanistan the ratio is 3.3 British troops wounded per fatality.

Ministers claimed yesterday UK Army medics were too busy to record accurate figures.

But the gaping discrepancy prompted fierce criticism and demands for greater openness.

Former Army medic Shaun Rusling, chairman of the National Gulf Veterans and Families Association, said: "It's nonsense for the MoD to say the figures aren't collected. Claiming they're not available is quite simply a lie.

"I think the MoD are afraid of the reaction if the public knew the full picture.

"Every time a medic treats somebody it's recorded, all figures are transmitted daily to the UK and commanding officers know exactly how many men they've got fit to fight at all times.

"The public ought to know what troops are enduring, and the price they are paying.

"It looks like a big chunk of the real casualty figures are missing."

Major Charles Heyman, editor of Armed Forces of the UK, questioned the MoD's official figures.

"What we're hearing from the ground in both Iraq and Afghanistan suggest not just a slightly higher figure but a much higher figure," he said.

Conservative MP and former infantry commander Patrick Mercer said: "There is a risk that if these men are not counted properly, they will end up not counting.

"We are talking about men suffering cuts, abrasions, burns but who are patched up and stay in the front line to carry on fighting with their mates, and aren't admitted to hospital."

The MoD claims to have improved the way it gathers and publishes casualty figures.

Asked why the U.S. figures showed such a higher ratio of wounded to fatalities, a spokesman said American forces in Iraq were 'conducting a different style of operation to UK troops'.

Junior defence minister Derek Twigg said yesterday: "We do not record every cut, bruise and minor injury.

"Gathering statistics in operational theatres has to be done carefully and takes time to ensure accuracy. Our medics prefer to spend their time treating people rather than filling in forms."

ĽA Briton working for a private security company was shot dead in Afghanistan yesterday.

The man, said to have been employed by the Armor-Group firm, died in the capital Kabul.

 

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