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Injuries cost more U.S. troops their limbs
By Gregg Zoroya
KABUL, Afghanistan — The number of severe wounds that have resulted in loss of limbs to U.S. servicemembers has been rising this year because of increased foot patrols in areas mined with buried explosives, and is on a pace to exceed any year since the Afghanistan War began, according to the latest casualty data.
"Nobody has ever seen this degree of injury before," says Lt. Col. John Oh, the director of trauma care at the Army's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, which provided the data and treats nearly all casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Through July, 134 servicemembers lost limbs in combat this year, 78% of all 171 amputations in 2010. In addition, there have been 79 cases of multiple amputations this year, more than any previous year.
The U.S. military has relied on foot patrols for a counterinsurgency campaign aimed at protecting the population and turning civilians against the Taliban, the Islamist militia that was ousted from power in 2001.
As the campaign continues, the Taliban has used more improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, against the coalition forces.
The Pentagon's attempts to protect troops from IEDs range from heavyweight chaps and Kevlar underwear to ground-penetrating radar systems and increased armoring of vehicles.
The Army recently announced that it would begin to train 1,200 flight medics to become critical-care flight paramedics in order to treat the most severely wounded troops as they are taken off the battlefield.
Both the Army and Navy formed medical task forces to track the rise in severe injuries and identify the best treatments.
An Army report, to be made public today, attributes the injuries to the increase of foot patrols into areas thick with Taliban forces. Marines have been disproportionately affected, according to the Army study.
Doctors treating the troops' wounds say there is often damage to lungs, kidneys and livers from massive blood loss and shock. Infections are severe, including ones caused by fungi in Afghan terrain thrown deep into body wounds. Ninety of the wounded troops this year lost genitals from blasts, according to the Landstuhl data.
Army Maj. T.G. Taylor — a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, which oversees operations in Iraq and Afghanistan — would not comment on coalition tactics, but he said commanders review what's happening on the battlefield to "ensure mission success and maximum protection for their soldiers."
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