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.
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 Ã¢€” and against women Ã¢€” 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 Ã¢€” 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.