Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Despite War's End, Military Deaths a Growing Concern ; Accidents in Iraq - Even More Than Hostile Attacks - Account for Most US Military Fatalities, as They Do Globally

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Despite War's End, Military Deaths a Growing Concern ; Accidents in Iraq - Even More Than Hostile Attacks - Account for Most US Military Fatalities, as They Do Globally

Article excerpt

Even as US ground forces in Iraq face a fresh spate of enemy attacks, statistically they confront a bigger challenge that strikes when least expected: accidents.

Since President Bush declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq on May 1, mishaps have claimed the lives of 26 troops - or three-quarters of the US military fatalities in that country. If this rate of accidental deaths (compared with hostile losses) goes unchecked, such fatalities could within a few months surpass the number of troops killed in combat during the war.

On Saturday, three US troops from a unit attached to the 101st Airborne Division were killed and six others were injured in a traffic accident, adding to the already high toll from vehicle crashes in Iraq. The soldiers were traveling in a light-medium tactical vehicle on a road between Mosul and Tikrit in northern Iraq, according to wire reports of a military statement.

The losses come amid a jump in serious US military accidents worldwide, with the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force all reporting significant increases over the past two years. In a terse memo, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called last month for a 50 percent across-the-board cut in mishap rates for all Defense Department activities in the next two years.

"World-class organizations do not tolerate preventable accidents," he said in the May 19 memo. The initiative covers all Defense activities - including those of military personnel both on- and off-duty, active duty, Reserve, and National Guard forces, and all civilian employees.

At current rates, in fiscal 2003 Marines are having their worst year for serious on-duty accidents in 11 years, and the Navy in five years, according to official safety statistics. Meanwhile, the Army's number of serious on-duty ground accidents - as well as resulting fatalities - have more than doubled so far this fiscal year.

The biggest causes of accidental military deaths - both in Iraq over the past month and around the world - are aircraft and vehicle crashes.

In Iraq, helicopter crashes took seven American lives over a span of 10 days in May. Three soldiers were killed May 9 when their UH- 60 Black Hawk medical helicopter crashed. Four Marines perished May 19 when their CH-46 helicopter went down shortly after takeoff. In addition to the seven, another Marine died attempting to rescue his comrades.

Worldwide in fiscal 2002, the number of Class A aviation accidents for all services nearly doubled to 98 compared with 53 in fiscal 2001, while deaths resulting from the crashes rose to 82 from 65. …

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