Death toll of fe­male sol­diers is ‘trou­bling’

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Rowan Scar­bor­ough

The num­ber of mil­i­tary ser­vice women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan has reached 70, more than the to­tal from the Korean, Viet­nam and Desert Storm wars.

“Some have ar­gued that the women who have died are no dif­fer­ent than the men,” ac­cord­ing to a re­port not­ing the 70 ca­su­al­ties from the Cen­ter for Mil­i­tary Readi­ness, which op­poses women in com­bat. “But de­lib­er­ate ex­po­sure of women to com­bat vi­o­lence in war is tan­ta­mount to ac­cep­tance of vi­o­lence against women in gen­eral.”

The rea­sons for the his­tor­i­cal high ca­su­alty rate are mul­ti­ple. Women­now­make­up­morethan14 per­cent of the vol­un­teer force, per­form­ing a long list of mil­i­tary oc­cu­pa­tional spe­cial­ties they did not do 50 years ago. Women in ear­lier wars were mostly con­fined to med­i­cal teams. To­day, they fly com­bat air­craft, drive trucks to re­sup­ply fight­ing units, go on pa­trol as mil­i­tary po­lice (MPs) and re­pair equip­ment.

What’smore,theAfghanandIraq con­flicts are last­ing longer than the rel­a­tively brief Desert Storm, which fea­tured the first large con­tri­bu­tion of Amer­i­can women in a war zone.

But the real dif­fer­ence in Afghanistan and Iraq is the bat­tle­field. It is vir­tu­ally ev­ery road, neigh­bor­hood and rural vil­lage. In­sur­gents do not just at­tack front-line

com­bat troops. Sui­cide bombers and im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vices (IEDs) strike at any time, mean­ing that women in sup­port units can be just as vul­ner­a­ble as men in ground com­bat.

“What it means is, it’s just un­prece­dented,” said Elaine Donnelly, who heads the Cen­ter for Mil­i­tary Readi­ness. “It is some­thing that peo­ple are not aware of, for the most part. Some of th­ese sto­ries are in­cred­i­bly sad.”

Her re­port lists names, ranks and cause of death of eight women killed in Afghanistan and 62 killed in Iraq. The vast ma­jor­ity are en­listed women killed by IEDs or other am­bush.

Last month, two fe­male of­fi­cers died in Iraq, in­clud­ing Maj. Me­gan McClung, 34, a Marine Corps pub­lic-af­fairs spe­cial­ist. Il­lus­trat­ing there are no firm bat­tle lines, the death hap­pened when Maj. McClung was es­cort­ing jour­nal­ists near Ra­madi. Her truck was hit by an IED.

Paul Boyce, an Army spokesman at the Pen­tagon, said the ser­vice has gone to great lengths to field ar­mored Humvees that can blunt the force of an IED, as well as in­di­vid­ual body ar­mor.

“Women sol­diers are mak­ing vi­tal con­tri­bu­tions to our ef­forts to fight and win the war on ter­ror­ism,” he said. “Re­cent op­er­a­tions in the war on ter­ror­ism con­sis­tently show that any sol­dier, whether per­form­ing com­bat or sup­port mis­sions, could be ex­posed to com­bat haz­ards.”

More than half the 70 women killed were vic­tims of hos­tile fire, as op­posed­todeath­by­ac­ci­dent,which is added to the war’s to­tal ca­su­alty count. The 70 rep­re­sents about 2 per­cent of the to­tal death count of 3,253 in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mrs.Don­nelly­saidthosekilled­in­clude seven moth­ers with chil­dren 18 or younger.

“I think it’s some­thing that is very trou­bling, be­cause it says that we as a na­tion are will­ing to tol­er­ate vi­o­lencea­gainst­wom­e­nas­lon­g­a­sitoc­curs at the hands of the en­emy,” she said.

Women are barred from land com­bat un­der fed­eral law and reg­u­la­tion. But they do serve in units such as mil­i­tary po­lice and com­bat sup­pli­ers that puts them in the bull’s-eye for ter­ror­ists.

Part of the prob­lem, Mrs. Don- nelly says, lies in the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion’s 1994 de­ci­sion to re­scind the so-called “risk rule.” It kept fe­males out of sup­port units that would likely ex­pose them to hos­tile fire or cap­ture. If this rule were still in ef­fect, fe­male ca­su­al­ties would­prob­a­bly­be­lower,Mrs.Donnelly said. Women re­mained banned from land com­bat.

Women have been able to serve as­mil­i­tary­po­lice­for­some­time.But in Iraq, mil­i­tary po­lice are al­most as likely to see com­bat as an in­fantry­man. Mrs. Donnelly said the MP mis­sion needs to be di­vided into all-male units, which are the most likely to see com­bat.

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