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Afghanistan injuries rise sharply

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 30 July 2009

The number of British troops seriously wounded in Afghanistan this year is already almost as high as the total for the whole of 2008.

A soldier in Afghanistan (picture: Reuters)

Figures released by the Ministry of Defence have revealed 57 soldiers were wounded in action in the first two weeks of July, taking the total to 199 so far this year.

The rate soldiers are being wounded in action in Afghanistan has almost doubled in the last year.  Alongside the 22 service personnel killed in Afghanistan this month, 16 troops also suffered serious injuries that put their lives at risk. 

They are troops like Lieutenant Guy Disney of The Light Dragoons, who lost a foot when he was hit by a rocket propelled grenade in Helmand.

"Instantly I felt a searing pain, not a searing pain but a searing heat in my leg," he said. "I looked down and there wasn't much left, but it was still there. Quite quickly the lads in the back of the van chucked a tourniquet on which probably saved my life."

This time last year troops were being wounded in action at a rate of around one every other day, but in the last six months it has shot up to almost one every day.  Since Operation Panther's Claw began there has been a sharp increase in the number of casualties.  So far this year there have been 61 serious and very serious injuries compared 65 for the whole of last year.

Col Peter Mahoney from the Royal Army Medical Corps, said: "We have had our moments, we have had days when it has been intense and days when the surgical team has been working full-on, in fact all our teams have been working full-on. They have done it extremely well and I believe have delivered a standard of care second to none."

Earlier this week the MoD's decision to fight the compensation claims of two injured soldiers provoked outrage among those serving with the Armed Forces, many of whom have left comments on a military forum, Army Rumour Service (ARRSE). One person wrote: "Some MoD civvie clerk got nearly half a million for a typing injury, and look at how little the wounded guys who have risked their lived get. It's pitiful."

Another wrote: "What we all want is to be treated fairly, paid and looked after when we are injured." One other posted saying: "The worst thing about this is the effect it could have on morale."

Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth has now admitted it was "possibly" a mistake to seek to reduce the payouts.  The government has brought forward the review of the compensation scheme which was due next spring.

Mr Ainsworth said: "We planned this review. We always knew that these issues would arise, that they would have to be addressed. But yes, if you like, the furore that there has been, some of the reporting, some of the misreporting that there has been, has led me to take the decision that we need to crack on and we need to do it now."

The armed forces have suffered heavy losses in Afghanistan. One hundred and ninety one service men and women have died since operations began in 2001, but with Operation Panther's Claw now over it is hoped at least for the present, the worst is behind them.

'Very determined enemy'

Colonel Richard Kemp, a former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, told Channel 4 News: "We should be incredibly proud of our soldiers out in Afghanistan who are suffering some very horrific wounding as well as deaths. The fact that they are prepared to still fight there and go forward amidst these terrible casualties, knowing what could happen to them I think is something we can be immensely proud of as a country.

"In terms of the casualty figures - they are high. The problem is when you are at war, when you are fighting a high intensity war, and when you are going after the Taliban in the way our forces have been doing in the last few weeks, then you are going to get high numbers of casualties.

"We have seen tragically high numbers of people killed. We are now learning about the relationship to casualty figures as well. It is high, it is tragic, it is what happens in war and it is particularly what happens when you go after a very determined enemy who is not just going to sit down and take a kicking from you."

He said that the figures probably only included those with serious injuries. "What we are talking about is people who are probably sufficiently badly injured to be evacuated from Afghanistan back into the United Kingdom for treatment.

"There will be a lot more people who are injured during the course of an operation."

Col Kemp said he does have confidence in the MoD despite their court appeal over increasing compensation to injured soldiers. "The MoD is making a reasonable hand of a very, very difficult job they have got to do. It was a very bad mistake to do what they did over attempting to what appeared to be attacking their own soldiers in court and particularly at this time.

"I have had reservations for some time about the extent to which our senior officers in the army and also senior civil servants, and perhaps to a lesser extent politicians, are prepared to give the absolute maximum support necessary to look after our casualties and their families, both in terms of financial compensation, medical treatment and so on.

"We are gradually improving, but it needs more impetus behind it and above all it needs more of a kick from senior military officers."

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