Tuesday, 30 August 2011

What price war?

I recently obtained figures which go some way to shedding some more light on the true horrors of war. The death toll in Afghanistan has become a familiar story in the news. At the time of writing, 379 UK soldiers have died during operations since the invasion of 2001. The death toll for UK soldiers in Afghanistan has long since passed that of the Falklands war which is remarkable given that the early years were relatively quiet – it was 2004 before the first UK soldier died following hostile action from the Taleban and it was another year-and-a-half before the next soldier died. Given the disproportionate number of soldiers Wales contributes to the UK Army, the bloodiness of the war in Afghanistan is a particular concern here. There are countless examples of civilians dying in their droves as well.

The death toll, as shocking as it is for civilians and combatants alike, only tells part of the story. For every death, there are many, many others being seriously injured or maimed. Here are figures showing how this has been the case for UK armed service personnel or civilians working for UK armed forces in Afghanistan. The information, obtained through the Defence Analytical Services and Advice (DASA), shows the number of ‘very seriously injured or seriously injured’ on operations in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2009 surpassed 300. This was nearly double the amount of the casualties sustained during the eight previous years combined. In 2001, when Afghanistan was first invaded by coalition forces, no military personnel or civilians from the UK were recorded as being very seriously or seriously wounded on operation there that year.

Figures from the same source on the number of amputations carried out on members of the armed forces reinforce the previous statistics. Between 2009 and 2010, the number of “surviving UK Service personnel” having a “traumatic or surgical amputation, partial or complete, for either upper or lower limbs” rose by 40% from 55 in 2009 to 79 last year. Of the 79 people undergoing amputations last year, 39 were identified as “significant multiple amputees.” The figures show that in 2006 the amputations numbered seven.

Last year alone there were three people every week, on average, working for the armed forces sustaining a serious or very serious injury in Afghanistan. The number of serious or very serious injured service personnel between January and the end of July is 47 which actually represents a decline in the rate at which soldiers are being seriously injured when compared to the previous two years. However, not many would argue this figure is acceptable.

From the very beginning Plaid Cymru has opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have also campaigned for better support to be given to ex-soldiers suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental health disorders. Not only have the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq proved to be very costly to human life but also to the public finances. Will the mainstream political parties in the UK now accept they were wrong to support interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan and that those mistakes have been compounded by not having any clear exit strategy in either case?

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