The Warrior Scholar

This is a blog about current events - a way to provide a constructive outlet for some of the thoughts I have on the issues of the day. It's also a way to generate some discussion and to get my ideas out into the world. Enjoy!

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Location: Alexandria, Virginia, United States

I'm a doctoral candidate in Virginia, with a love of history and politics. My dog is a great companion, and my family always keeps me in good spirits.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

100,000 Casualties in Iraq?

There are some major problems with the validity of the John's Hopkins "research" (Hat tip: Chicago Boyz) claiming that 100,000 Iraqis have died attributable to the coaltion attack on the Ba'athist regime.

First, it states that the majority of the casualties were caused by “air delivered bombs, helicopters, etc from the coalition.” This does not pass the “make sense” test. All of these weapon systems are guided either by GPS or by lasers. This means that the weapon systems that are used are very precise. From personal experience as a trained targeteer, dropping a bomb is a very controlled event, often times with extensive collateral damage calculations run before dropping the ordinance and intelligence revalidated. It is highly unlikely that air delivered weapons were the cause of the alleged casualties. In a counterinsurgency operation (at least from an American perspective), you begin with the least destructive weapons when engaging the enemy, and only graduate to large caliber weapons or bombs when it is clear that the enemy position is too heavily bunkered to defeat with smaller-caliber weapons. Second, the Soldiers and Marines that are in combat now are very experienced and mature vis a vis other militaries. They have an average age of 27 – averaging six to eight years of professional military training and service. This is roughly akin to the level of training for professional athletes. Many have served both in peacekeeping tours in Bosnia and Kosovo (indicating they know how to refrain from excessive use of force) as well as tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. Additionally, the officer corps generally has at least master degrees at the mid to senior levels (some with doctorates), and the senior noncommissioned officer corps mostly has associate or bachelors degrees. This is a highly educated, trained, and combat experienced force not given to creating large amounts of collateral damage. To think so simply does not take into account the facts.

The Soldiers and Marines now in Iraq have the benefit of revised training programs based on lessons learned from the last three years of combat, making their use of force more precise, controlled, and lethal against the jihadists and Ba’athists. Since the fall of Ba’athist regime in Iraq, the use of air-dropped ordinance has been very controlled and has not exceeded a half dozen bombs dropped per day (even during heavy fighting). The limited amount of ordinance used and the controlled manner in which it has been employed indicates that the Johns Hopkins findings are simply not supported by the empirical evidence. In fact, many of the casualties sustained by the insurgents have been at the hands of snipers - a most precise application of force. Evidence of the restraint of the coalition forces can also be seen by the unwillingness of coalition forces to strike insurgents in mosques and hospitals. This restraint, combined with the training and precision of the forces, calls into great question the Johns Hopkins findings.

In contrast, most of the foreign jihadists that have flocked to Iraq have had no military training, and the Ba’athists that control them are primarily remnants of Saddam’s secret police and Republican Guards – not exactly the best trained force out there for force-on-force operations. Note over the past year, the vast majority of deaths reported in Iraq are due to insurgent and terrorist bombings of civilians and attacks on Iraqi government forces, not due to actions of the coalition forces (and even that is not at the 138 deaths/day that the study claims!). When the jihadists and insurgents engage in force-on-force combat, they suffer tremendous casualties. The insurgents have now had at least 15,000 killed (before Fallujah) over the past seventeen months (probably another 50,000 wounded - my estimate), yet when these insurgents are taken to hospitals, they invariably claim they are “civilians”. When al Sadr declared he would no longer maintain his insurgency earlier this year, it was after two thousand of his followers were killed or wounded, and half of his remaining followers had fled for their lives. Of course, the local hospitals declared that all the casualties taken there were “civilians”.

This “academically rigorous” report brings discredit both on the “researchers” and Johns Hopkins. Trained academics are supposed to understand research methods, and be able to account for skew and bias. This group obviously did not. To make claims of mortality based on distorted baselines and poorly chosen variables is the mark of poor research.

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