Nearly 3,200 US soldiers have died in Iraq since military operations began. The cost of invasion becomes more acute when considering that several times more military personnel have been injured in action, many having suffered chronic and debilitating damage. The large injured-to-killed ratio masks the magnitude of US losses, but it also reveals how the coalition's utilization of military and medical technologies have kept a lot of warriors who might have died in the past from dying today.
Or does it? It sounds reasonable, but causation also stems from the nature of US strategy, that of grounded occupation and the urban warfare it invites. Conventional warfare inherently sees a less prodigious ItoK ratio because artillery forces rolling in, under fire from rockets and automatic fire, are facing a pretty stark black-or-white outcome--getting hit spells death, avoiding it wins the right to continue on. When a vanquished city is being occupied, however, the threats are more 'organic'. Less lethal, they allow for more gradations. The shrapnel from an IED can leave an unfortunate victim in several different states, death being but one of them.
Not surprisingly, the official ItoK ratio was 3.1-to-1 in March '03. In April '03, it climbed to 4.5-to-1. Since then, the ratio has been close to 7.5-to-1. The increase is the result of the US-led effort to pacify the streets and cleanse neighborhoods of militia elements, not of rapidly improving treatment and recovery methods.
In contrast, the first Gulf War, fought in the open deserts of southern Iraq in conditions that heavily favored the US, saw few injuries per fatality (click to see the graphic in better detail--notice that the chart at top includes all medical evacuations from the war theatre, while the injured in the aforementioned ItoK ratios were strictly comprised of those injured by bullets, shrapnel, and explosives). The US lost 382 soldiers in the excursion. Fewer than 500 were wounded.
Did Desert Storm occur at a time when American lifesaving technologies were at a nadir? Were we less medically capable fifteen years ago than we were during the Revolution? The medical advancement/prevention explanation is only partial--remedial and rehabilitative techniques have steadily and progressively improved over time, but the number of wounded soldiers per fatality by conflict shows a tenuous chronological trend at best.
It's good that many American soldiers come home knocked down but not out instead of giving up the ghost on Middle Eastern soil, and the 98% survival rate of injured soldiers enjoying the superb inpatient care of military hospitals has a lot to do with that. But many of these sufferances are due to a conscious decision to conduct house-to-house raids and building-to-building small-arms fire exchanges, relegating US battle capabilities to the equivalent of those enjoyed by the tribal militias. A more indiscriminate policy would lessen the ItoK ratio not by increasing US deaths but by decreasing non-fatal injuries.
A lesson to take from this? Leverage our vastly superior firepower instead of sending promising Americans into urban chaos on behalf of tribalistic factions vying for illiberal control of the areas being patrolled. Leaflet problem sections of Baghdad warning residents of what will follow, and then carpet bomb those same places hours later. Treat entire neighborhoods known to be infested with militants as insurgent citadels to be eviscerated. Either go all the way, or (better yet) go home. More trenchant tactics will reduce fatalities somewhat, but the reduction in casualties will be far greater.