Wednesday before work I hear this report from NPR's Daniel Zwerdling on "All Things Considered" (link is audio only).
Zwerdling talks about how little is heard about those wounded in Iraq and does a series of MOTS interviews where passersby consistently underestimate the number of troops injured.
Zwerdling estimates the number at around 9,000. He repeats this figure several times — 9,000 — and explains how he arrived at it. Most of the piece is about the difficulty he has in getting official confirmation for a more precise number. He interviews Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), who has been trying for weeks without success to get some official count. The senator, who sits on the select committee on intelligence, sounds angry and frustrated. He can't even get the Pentagon to give him information on the number of purple hearts awarded, or whether injured soldiers are even getting them.
So anyway, I get to work, where a mortar attack by Iraqi insurgents puts the U.S. casualty figures back on the front page of the paper. The numbers we use are the daily figures supplied by the Department of Defense and put out over the AP wire every day. These are the same figures you'll see on the Iraq Coalition Casualties page from Lunaville: 2,849 total U.S. military wounded. That breaks down into 2,461 "hostile" and 388 "non-hostile" injuries.
The DoD/AP figure is less than one-third as large as the figure used by Hagel and NPR. Odd. I remembered reading a David Hackworth column on this via Buzzflash, so I find that column on Soldiers for the Truth:
… a Pentagon source gave me a copy of a Nov. 30 dispatch showing that … our armed forces have taken 14,000 casualties in Iraq …
Lt. Col. Scott D. Ross of the U.S. military's Transportation Command told me that as of Dec. 23, his outfit had evacuated 3,255 battle-injured casualties and 18,717 non-battle injuries.
Following are the major categories of the non-battle evacuations:
Orthopedic surgery – 3,907
General surgery – 1,995
Internal medicine – 1,291
Psychiatric – 1,167
Neurology – 1,002
Gynecological – 491
… Ross cautioned that his total of 21,972 evacuees could be higher than other reports because "in some cases, the same service member may be counted more than once."
This is only makes things murkier. We've got nonhostile injury numbers ranging from 388 to 18,717.
3,915 soldiers evacuated from Operation Iraqi Freedom for non-combat injuries, as of early October, according to the Army Surgeon General's office.
7,714 Ill and injured American troops had been evacuated from Iraq as of Nov. 13, according to the Pentagon (937 hostile, 6,777 nonhostile).
6,861 troops reported as medically evacuated for "non-combat conditions," and 1,967 for wounds from battle between March 19 and Oct. 30, according to figures released by the Army Surgeon General's Office. "Of the non-combat medical evacuations 2,464 were for injuries, such as those sustained in vehicle accidents, 4,397 were due to illness, 504 of those were classified as psychiatric, 378 as neurological, and another 150 as neurosurgery."
Eventually I found this article by UPI's Mark Benjamin, in which he examines many of these same conflicting numbers and gets ignored by Jim Turner — the same Pentagon spokesman who seemed to be hiding from Sen. Hagel and NPR's Zwerdling.
The Pentagon seems to be making some significant distinction between "non-hostile wounded" and "non-combat injuries," but they do not seem willing to explain this distinction to the rest of us.
My initial questions here were the questions of a copyeditor: Is this the right number? How can I confirm this? What is the source's source?
Reporters, and even Republican senators, have been able to answer none of these — which raises many additional questions.