Toll of shattered bodies covers latest phase of a long conflict
Canadians wounded in Afghanistan top 360 in past 3 years
New figures prepared for the Defence Department show the number of wounded Canadian soldiers totalled more than 360 in the past three full years of fighting in southern Afghanistan.
The estimate is contained in an annual statistical review compiled for the army and obtained by the Canadian Press news agency.
It represents the number of troops wounded since Canada took on a major role in the more dangerous southern part of the country in 2006 and does not include those hurt between 2002 and 2005.
The statistics do not distinguish between severe and less serious wounds, but minor injuries such as bumps and bruises are not counted.
Wounded far outnumber slain
The wounded, some of whom have lost limbs or suffered other severe trauma, far outnumber soldiers killed in action.
(As of Sunday, 106 Canadian soldiers and a diplomat have been killed since the conflict began. The total includes 36 soldiers killed in 2006, 30 in 2007 and 32 so far in 2008, according to a CBC tally. By contrast, the combined total for the four earlier years was eight soldiers and the diplomat.)
The statistical breakdown shows 2006 was by far the worst year for injuries, with 180 wounded in various engagements, including Operation Medusa, the largest battle involving Canadian units since the Korean War more than half a century earlier.
In 2007, the wounded figure dropped to 84 as Canadian soldiers and commanders became more accustomed to the unpredictable style of a guerrilla war.
The 2008 number was estimated to reach about 95 by the time the year ends.
The three-year overview does not include a breakdown of how many soldiers have been returned home on compassionate grounds, including those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. However, a Senate committee report released last summer estimated that figure to be 395.
In early December, the death toll surpassed 100. Over the last few weeks, six more Canadian soldiers lost their lives in roadside-bomb attacks.
It is the combat deaths and sombre repatriations that get the most public attention, while those who survive with bodies that have been punctured, deformed and burned receive little mention outside the military.
"We've learned some hard lessons over the last few years," Gen. Walter Natynczyk, the country's top military commander, said in a recent interview with the Canadian Press.
Whether they were shot in a firefight, stepped on a booby trap or had their vehicles blown up by a roadside bomb, the seriously wounded are evacuated to the military hospital at Kandahar Airfield.
Serious wounds mean long rehab
The worst cases, once stabilized, are flown to the U.S. army hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, considered by the military to be one of the best trauma centres in the world.
Long and often painful rehabilitation happens in Canada, where the soldiers are brought to civilian hospitals near their bases or their homes if they are reservists.
Natynczyk said the military makes no distinction between wounded regular-force soldiers and injured reservists, who make up an increasing number in each rotation of the Kandahar battle group.
"We will care for our people across the board," the chief of defence staff said.
The Senate security and defence committee examined the care that wounded soldiers receive in an interim report earlier this year and found that treatment provided on the battlefield and in Europe was "top notch."
But the committee said there are glaring inadequacies once injured troops are home, including a variation in trauma care, depending upon the province where they're treated.
The report recommended the Defence Department either reach an all-province agreement for state-of-the-art treatment of wounded returnees or resume treatment itself, something the military stopped many years ago because of the cost.
While critical care may not be different between regular and reserve soldiers, their post-injury compensation does vary, the Senate committee complained.
Reservists, who make up over 20 per cent of the 2,500 troops deployed in Kandahar, do not receive the same benefits as members of the regular force.
For example, some who lose a limb under the current system receive less than half the compensation of a career soldier.
When you're out on the field fighting, it doesn't matter, you have an equal risk of death or injury. Reservists are not limited to little boo boos. If you want to treat them that way, then don't put them out in the front lines.