Opinion

An accounting of blood and treasure

WASHINGTON—There are always costs in a war, human costs and hardware costs, and as we draw close to beginning the fourth year of our operations in Iraq it's time to tally those costs one more time.

As of this week a total of 2,270 Americans have lost their lives in Iraq, the great majority of those losses suffered in combat. The number of wounded has reached 16,653, just over half of those marked wounded but returned to duty.

A little known cost is in vehicles lost in combat. Just for the U.S. Army alone that number has reached nearly 1,000. The cost for replacing those totally destroyed vehicles and overhauling thousands more worn out by heavy use totals $9 billion in this year's proposed defense budget and in the off-budget emergency wartime supplemental budget Congress passes twice each fiscal year.

Since the Iraq combat operations began in the winter of 2003 the Army has lost 20 M1 Abrams tanks; 50 Bradley fighting vehicles; 20 Stryker wheeled combat vehicles; 20 M113 armored personnel carriers; 250 Humvees; and some 500 Fox wheeled reconnaissance vehicles, mine clearing vehicles and heavy and medium transport trucks and trailers.

The bulk of these losses in tracked and wheeled vehicles were to the ubiquitous improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, that the insurgents employ to such deadly purpose.

To that equipment toll, for both Afghanistan and Iraq, add 27 Apache attack helicopters; 21 Blackhawk utility helicopters; 23 Kiowa Warrior assault helicopters; and 14 big Chinook cargo helicopters.

Only 17 of the helicopter losses are counted as combat downings.

The rest were destroyed in accidents.

This information and these figures are courtesy of The Army Times weekly newspaper, Feb. 20 issue, with thanks.

The Army has ordered 19 new Stryker armored vehicles to be built to replace the losses. In the case of the Abrams tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and M113 personnel carriers which are no longer in production the Army pulls replacements out of mothballs and runs them through a frame-up depot rebuilding process that upgrades them to the newest high-tech versions.

In addition to replacing the totally destroyed vehicles, the Army is faced with near-total rebuilding jobs on literally thousands of other Abrams tanks, Bradleys, M113s, Humvees, trucks and aircraft that have been worn out by heavy use in the combat zones.

The wear and tear on those vehicles is estimated at five times normal peacetime use, and that wear factor is cumulative as the war drags on. Last year the Army's Materiel Command and its contractors overhauled 230 Abrams tanks. This year they expect to overhaul more than 700 of the huge tanks. Bradleys go from last year's 318 overhauls to this year's 600. Overhauls of Humvees, which totaled 5,000 in 2005, will hit 9,000 in fiscal 2006.

These totals do not take into account major repairs needed for small arms, radios, generators and all the other gear that an army runs on in a combat zone.

Why is so much of the equipment being ground down? Because the vehicles and much of the other gear including body armor does not go home when units rotate out for a year's break from combat. Their equipment stays behind and the arriving unit just picks it up and puts it back to work without a break. Over 30,000 vehicles are on duty all the time in Iraq.

Put simply our soldiers are literally driving the wheels, and tracks, off these vehicles, and will continue to do so for as long as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continue.

One senior official of the Army Materiel Command estimates that if the war ended tomorrow there would still be two years' worth of work to fix all the vehicles and gear. That includes 30,000 Humvees, the modern replacement for the old Army Jeep. When they eventually come home some 6,000 of them will be declared surplus or beyond repair. The rest will be repaired and upgraded and parceled out to the Army units.

Equipment can be repaired or replaced. But nothing can replace a father or mother who has been killed in this war, or any war. Nothing can compensate for all the lives shattered when a soldier dies in combat. In Iraq it is estimated that the human toll includes nearly 1,000 spouses who have been left behind, alone, and more than 2,000 children who have lost a parent to the war.

Nor can you repair or replace what has been lost by hundreds of soldiers severely injured by powerful IED blasts and left double or triple amputees, blind or brain damaged, riddled by shrapnel. For them, and those who love them, life suddenly has become an unending struggle.

Remember them.

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Joseph L. Galloway is the senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of the national best-seller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young

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