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National Post (f/k/a The Financial Post) March 25, 2003

First British soldier killed in battle

SOURCE: National Post, with files from Reuters

By Mary Vallis

Britain yesterday confirmed a soldier had died in combat, its first of the war. But that brought the number of confirmed British deaths to 17, drawing attention to the number of soldiers who have died out of combat.

British and U.S. troops have so far been more likely to die in friendly fire incidents or accidents than in combat with Iraqis.

The United States Defense Department has likewise confirmed at least 10 American deaths, but only two were related to combat.

Most of the British soldiers lost their lives in air crashes. Two Royal Air Force aviators were killed on Sunday when a U.S. Patriot missile downed their Tornado aircraft near the Kuwait-Iraq border. It was the third fatal accident involving British troops, none of which was the result of enemy action.

Six British soldiers and an American were killed on Sunday when two Royal Navy Sea King helicopters collided over the Gulf. And last week, a U.S. Sea Knight transport helicopter crashed in the Kuwaiti desert, killing eight British Marines and four Americans.

The other U.S. troops were killed by accidental .50-calibre machine-gun fire, a vague "vehicle accident," and a disaffected soldier who hurled a grenade at a military tent.

"There are going to be mistakes," Patrick Garrett, an analyst with globalsecurity.org, a defence policy think-tank, said.

"The military argues that the battlefield is transparent or nearly transparent, meaning that they know exactly what's going on everywhere. But the fact of the matter is that the fog of war continues to play an important role in all combat."

Several analysts said Americans would be tolerant of casualties until the figure passed 148, the U.S.'s death toll in the 1991 conflict.

"People will then say, is this war worth more than the number of people who died in the Gulf War?" said Prof. John Mueller of Ohio State University, who studied public opinion during several wars, including the 1991 Gulf War and Vietnam and Korean wars.

Copyright 2003, National Post