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Tuesday | August 05, 2003

Casualities hidden, mystery illness hits US troops in Iraq

By Steve Gilliard

Iraq is still far from safe or stable. Nightline ran a piece on the incredible problems NGO's are having in trying to ship basic medical goods to Iraqi hospitals. Tales of ambushes and assaults are common.

But relief workers must interact with a health system being reorganized by the same occupying forces that they seek to distinguish themselves from. As the U.S. military spearheads reconstruction efforts, it is sometimes hard for average Iraqis to distinguish between Western aid workers and Western occupiers. Some relief workers claim the murkiness threatens their security, and they aim to keep a low profile.

"We have cars with 'IMC' all over them, but we keep those in the garage and just use unmarked cars low visibility and just try to keep our heads down and get the job done," said Sarah Telford of International Medical Corps.

However, that's far from the only medical problem in Iraq

The Pentagon figure for wounded in action in Iraq is 827, but here again the total of injuries appears much higher.

The estimate given by central command in Qatar is 926, but Lieutenant-Colonel Allen DeLane, in charge of the airlift of wounded into Andrews Air Force Base, argues that too is understated. "Since the war has started, I can't give you an exact number because that's classified information, but I can say to you over 4000 have stayed here at Andrews, and that number doubles when you count the people that come here to Andrews and then we send them to other places . . ." Colonel DeLane told National Public Radio.

Ninety per cent of injuries were directly war-related, he said.

"When the facility where I'm at started absorbing the people coming back from theatre [in April], those numbers went up significantly - I'd say over 1200. That number even went up higher in the month of May, to about 1500, and continues to increase

What's not counted in the total is over 100 soldiers who have caught some kind of pnuemonia-like illness, not only in Iraq, but across CENTCOM deployments in the region.

The latest cases bring the number of affected troops to 19. All have been evacuated to the same Landstuhl, Germany, hospital where Spec. Josh Neusche, 20, of Montreal was treated before he died July 12.

It is believed Neusche contracted the illness, first thought to be pneumonia, while conducting cleanup operations with the 203rd Engineer Battalion in Baghdad.

"The Army Surgeon General confirmed that three or four of the soldier's in Josh's unit are among those who got sick," Sen. Ike Skelton told the Lake Sun Tuesday. "I know Josh was stationed in Baghdad when he got sick but I still do not know what unit the second soldier (who died of the mysterious illness) was in, what his job was or where he was working when he became ill."

The Army, despite being asked to track soldiers from the start of the war, is only now doing epidemological studies after this outbreak.

A six-person team of specialists traveled to Iraq on Friday to investigate 15 cases of pneumonia so serious that patients had to be put on ventilators to breathe and were evacuated from the region, the Army Surgeon General's Office said.

Combine the poor sanitation common in most of the CENTCOM areas, the lack of decent permanent housing for US troops, especially in Iraq and no idea if or how Iraqis are fairing, a medical disaster for American troops is possible. We have no idea if Iraqis are getting sick from this and with the chaos in the hospitals, little way of finding out.

Then, of course, the number of casulaities from Iraq are pushing Walter Reed to the brink.

So we have large numbers of seriously wounded men and women, those getting sick and almost no way of finding out if a virus is spreading in the general Iraqi population.

Just another outcome of faith-based planning.

Posted August 05, 2003 02:59 AM


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