Sep 7, 2017
Defense Drumbeat

By Mackenzie Eaglen
September 07, 2017

"With hurricane relief and the debt ceiling grabbing the headlines, it will be easy to overlook today’s Congressional hearing on recent ship collisions in the Pacific Ocean. But policymakers should not.

Troops are now more likely to die in “peacetime” incidents than active hostilities or combat.

We should all be worried about that trend. Recent U.S. Navy ship collisions in the Pacific and several aircraft crashes have highlighted the tangible and tragic consequences of how “degraded military readiness” manifests. The loss of life stemming from the accidents involving the USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain has led to an operational pause in the United States Navy—and for good reason. Something is wrong, and if recent history is any indication, it is likely not just one single issue that can quickly be isolated and fixed.

While Afghanistan is now the longest continuous conflict in American military history, it actually ceased to be the deadliest threat that the military faces several years ago. That dubious honor has belonged to the specter of on-duty accidents, which have been the biggest killer of American servicemembers since 2014.

That year, a combined total of 39 American service members lost their lives due to hostile action in Afghanistan. Contemporaneously, 57 servicemembers were killed on duty in incidents including aircraft crashes, live-fire training mishaps, and operational mistakes akin to those which took the lives of sailors aboard the USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain this year. Only 16 of those 57 casualties were in Afghanistan. As combat deaths have continued to decline, accidents have accounted for more war losses in Afghanistan in each and every subsequent year.

Yet within this data lies an even more disturbing trend: the Navy and Marine Corps have suffered enough accidental fatalities since 2015 to eclipse the total number of all uniformed American personnel killed in Afghanistan through both hostile and non-hostile action over the last three years. Total casualties in Afghanistan for 2015, 2016, and 2017 were 22, 14, and 11, respectively. In those same years, the Department of the Navy lost 28, 21, and a stomach-churning 43 souls to accidents—and a quarter of 2017 still remains.

There exists a very real possibility that this year, four times as many sailors and Marines will die in accidents compared to all American troops killed on the Afghan frontlines."

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115th Congress