Female Troops Face Hostile Fire in Iraq

The death of a female Marine and wounding of about a dozen others in a suicide bombing yesterday illustrates the nature of the modern battlefield and the absurdity of simultaneously sending women to combat zones but not allowing them in combat.

Female Troops Face Hostile Fire in Iraq (AP)

The lethal ambush of a convoy carrying female U.S. troops in Fallujah underscored the difficulties of keeping women away from the front lines in a war where such boundaries are far from clear-cut. The suicide car bomb and ensuing small-arms fire killed at least two Marines, and four others were missing and presumed dead. At least one woman was killed and 11 of 13 wounded were female.


The women were part of a team of Marines assigned to various checkpoints around Fallujah. The Marines use females at the checkpoints to search Muslim women “in order to be respectful of Iraqi cultural sensitivities,” a military statement said. It is considered insulting for men to search female Muslims.

The terror group al-Qaida in Iraq claimed it carried out the ambush, one of the single deadliest attacks against the Marines — and against women — in this country. The high number of female casualties spoke to the lack of any real front lines in Iraq, where U.S. troops are battling a raging insurgency and American women soldiers have taken part in more close-quarters combat than in any previous military conflict.


Current Pentagon policy prohibits women from serving in front line combat roles — in the infantry, armor or artillery, for example. But an increasing number of female troops have been exposed to hostile fire. Thirty-six female troops have died since the war began, including the one that was announced Friday, said Maj. Michael Shavers, a Pentagon spokesman. Thirty-four were Army, one Navy and one Marine. Most have died from hostile fire. More than 11,000 women are serving in Iraq, part of 138,000 U.S. troops in the country, said Staff Sgt. Don Dees, a U.S. military spokesman.

Thursday’s attack may have been the single largest involving female U.S. service members since a Japanese suicide pilot slammed his plane into the USS Comfort near the Philippines in 1945, killing six Army nurses, according to figures from the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation.

Three Army women were among 28 U.S. troops who died during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 when a Scud missile struck a Marine barracks in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, the Washington-based foundation said on its Web site. The three were among a total of 16 women who died in Desert Storm. Four were killed by hostile fire.

One woman was listed as killed in action during the Vietnam War, two women died in the USS Cole bombing in 2000 and eight military women died at the Pentagon during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the foundation said.

I’ve written many times on this issue, so there’s not much new I can say here. In operations other than World War II style set piece battles, there are not really any “lines” to speak of, front or otherwise. The deaths of women in the Cole and Pentagon attacks prove that one doesn’t have to be engaged in active combat to be a target.

This is not to say, though, that the risks faced by infantrymen and logistical personnel are identical. Indeed, the statistics above illustrate the relative safety of women and others engaged in combat support and service support roles. Women comprise roughly ten percent of the force in Iraq but have suffered roughly two percent of the casualties.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kenny says:

    Women have always wanted to be treated at an equal and so when they join the military, they want to be treated just like the men. Well, as result, they can end up getting killed on the battle field, just like the men. You can’t have it both ways, be treated as an equal and yet still be protected as the weaker ses.

  2. DC Loser says:

    I don’t think any women in the armed forces are asking to be treated differently than the men. This is a media and politically driven issue.

  3. Hans Wanker says:

    I found this on the website at http://www.cofcc.org and I think it’s the best alternative yet I’ve seen to re-starting the draft. This deserves serious consideration, and I would like to know what you think.

    The Council of Conservative Citizens held its annual two-day conference June 3-4 in Montgomery, Alabama, including a meeting of the board of directors. The 26 member board unanimously voted in favor of the following resolution:

    RESOLVED that the Council of Conservative Citizens urges the United States Congress to draft legislation allowing male federal prisoners to have one half of their sentences excused in return for service in the United States Army. Such prisoners should be enrolled into separate battalions intended for overseas service only. Such prisoners should be enrolled as enlisted personnel only. Upon serving one half of their sentences in the United States Army prisoners will have earned their discharge and be released back into society.

    Due to the ongoing crisis in Army recruitment brought about by an unending foreign intervention the Council of Conservative Citizens does hereby ask that the Congress take this drastic measure as the least bad of all available options, to allow for the protection of our country.

    Board of Directors
    Council of Conservative Citizens
    June 3, 2005
    Montgomery, Alabama

    The vote was preceded by discussion that included both the directors and the general membership in attendance. Opinion was divided but all were in agreement that a deplorable number of Americans are becoming casualties in Iraq.

    For inquiries about the resolution and the conference please contact Chief Executive Officer Gordon Baum, Esq., of St. Louis, Missouri, at (636) 940-8474.

  4. ALS says:

    Women have always wanted to be treated at an equal and so when they join the military, they want to be treated just like the men. Well, as result, they can end up getting killed on the battle field, just like the men. You can’t have it both ways, be treated as an equal and yet still be protected as the weaker ses.

    Uhh, get with the program, there Kenny.

    We female Soldiers want the same opportunities, and have proven time and again, that we are equally as capable as men in combat.

    The point is that we DON’T want to be treated differently and protected.

    We’re proving now that when the bullets are flying, gender is irrelevant.