Wednesday, May 24, 2017
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Sep 21

Written by: Diana West
Wednesday, September 21, 2011 1:44 PM 

My upcoming column this week takes off from a new report on the continuing spike in amputations among US troops in Afghanistan. The AP reports: 

The counterinsurgency tactic that is sending U.S. soldiers out on foot patrols among the Afghan people, rather than riding in armored vehicles, has contributed to a dramatic increase in arm and leg amputations, genital injuries and the loss of multiple limbs following blast injuries.

The number of U.S. troops who had amputations rose sharply from 86 in 2009, to 187 in 2010 and 147 so far this year, military officials said Tuesday, releasing the report on catastrophic wounds.

Of those, the number of troops who lost two or three limbs rose from 23 in 2009 to 72 last year to 77 so far this year. ... The soldier on foot is at greater risk for severe injuries, Tuesday's report noted, "and the injury severity (in Afghanistan) confirms this."

USA Today adds:

An Army report, to be made public today, attributes the injuries to the increase of foot patrols ....

Doctors treating the troops' wounds say there is often damage to lungs, kidneys and livers from massive blood loss and shock. Infections are severe, including ones caused by fungi in Afghan terrain thrown deep into body wounds. Ninety of the wounded troops this year lost genitals from blasts, according to the Landstuhl data.

Why the increase in foot patrols? COIN theory demands it. "Patrol on foot whenever possible." ordered Gen. David Petraeus in a COIN guidance dated August 1, 2010, written with "advice from elders," and, oh, also Special Forces. "The decisive terrain is the human terrain," the Petraeus guidance explains, repeating the COIN mantra of population protection over force protection. "Only by providing them [Afghans] security and earning their trust" can the COIN strategy prevail.

Still, foot patrols continue -- "to engage with local population"  or as   "an effort to reassure local people" -- and with catastrophic results for the foot patrollers, as documented in the new military report. Within the last week, two more Americans were killed on foot patrol in Afghanistan, real-world casualties of the paper theory that "engaging" with Afghans will result in "earning their trust" -- and, therefore, what passes for COIN mission success.

It's time to look beyond the theory and assess its application. How's that COIN-essential Afghan trust project going? Congress should at the very least pose the question, for the sake of the wounded and still-unwounded both. It's time to realize that COIN's strategic results, paltry as they are, in now way justify the horrific flesh-and-blood cost.

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