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For All Was Lost: comparing UK & US military deaths in the War on Terror

Over the past two decades, service personnel from the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) have been deployed in operations overseas in at least 80 countries in the so-called ‘War on Terror’. Deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, launched in response to the 9/11 attacks, were by far the most substantial.

For All Was Lost: AOAV’s report

The lethal cost of these operations, in terms of service personnel, is a delicate subject, eliciting understandably strong emotions, but something that must be addressed in order to learn from, and possibly avoid, unnecessary loss of life in the future.

The subsequent report – For All Was Lost – seeks to do what neither government nor civil society has done to date. Namely, to analyse and compare the way in which armed combatants from the US and the UK have fought and died since the devastating attacks on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States in September 2001.

This report aims to compare the deaths of 7,002 US military personnel killed on operations between 2001 and October 2020 – from over 2.77 million American individuals deployed – with the 638 personnel who died on UK operations, from the 220,550 British deployed.

The main findings of the report For All Was Lost are:

  • IEDs were the primary cause of death for both UK and US militaries in the ‘War on Terror’. As a proportion of total force size, a UK soldier was twenty six per cent more likely to be killed by an IED than their US counterpart.
  • The IED was devastating to both US and UK troops, accounting for between half (UK) and two-thirds (US) of combat fatalities, where cause of death is known. For the US, IEDs killed more troops in Iraq, but for the UK more deaths were seen in Afghanistan.
  • At the respective heights of fatalities experienced during the conflict (2007 for US; 2009 for UK) the UK was proportionately losing nearly twice more personnel than the US.
  • Both nations suffered greater deaths in terms of deployed personnel in Afghanistan; indeed, the UK military suffered almost three quarters of its total deaths there. In comparison, Iraq was the most lethal theatre for US troops, where almost two thirds of their total overseas deaths occurred.
  • Overall, the War on Terror was proportionately 12% deadlier for UK personnel than it was for US, based on numbers of troops deployed and numbers of troops killed.
  • Three times the number of UK soldiers were shot and killed in Afghanistan than they were in Iraq. Overall, a UK soldier was twice as likely to be shot and killed than their US counterpart.
  • One in five operational deaths occurred outside combat, for both fighting forces. Overall, there were proportionally more combat deaths compared to non-combat deaths in Afghanistan than there were in Iraq.
  • One in seven total UK deaths were a result of accidents, and nearly one in eight for US troops.
  • Based on available evidence, UK forces were over ten times more likely to die from friendly fire than their US counterparts. This either reflects a concerning failure of UK military communication during operations, or a worrying refusal of the US military to publicly acknowledge friendly fire deaths.
  • Based on the evidence available, UK forces were over fifty times more likely to kill themselves during overseas operations compared to their US counterparts. This is clearly not the case, but reflects an opacity on the part of the US military to publicly acknowledge suicides on operations.

The full report can be read here.

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Much credit must go to Chloe Squires for this report as she headed up a team of volunteers that went laboriously through each and every combatant death to find truth in tragedy. Additional reporting was by Louis Platts-Dunn; Matt Williams; Alessandra Restaino; Naomi Graves; Jasmin Sweeney; Tamsin Paternoster; Rohan Prasad; Annabelle Green; Giulia Scalabrino and Jennifer Dathan