An analysis of British Army fatalities in Afghanistan
David Gee and Anna Goodman have written this excellent report that Veterans For Peace (UK) endorses.
Published by ForcesWatch and Child Soldiers International, August 2013
The risk of fatality in Afghanistan for recruits who enlisted into the British Army aged 16 and completed training has been twice as high as it has for those enlisting at 18 or above.
The authors believe the increased risk reflects the disproportionately high number of 16 year olds who join front-line Infantry roles. This is the result of recruitment policies which drive young people with limited academic qualifications into the Army’s most dangerous roles. Those who enlist at 16 are effectively barred from entering many of the less risky support or technical roles due to lack of qualifications. Another probable contributing factor is the longer average career length of 16 year old recruits who successfully complete training, leading to more tours of duty in Afghanistan when compared with adult recruits.
The study analyses data on British Army fatalities in the Afghanistan war and compares this with published recruitment data over a ten-year period. It concludes that:
- Although fatalities have been uncommon among British forces in Afghanistan, soldiers who enlisted at age 16 and subsequently completed training have been approximately twice as likely to die there as those enlisting at age 18 or above. (Odds ratio 1.92, 95% CI 1.39-2.66, p<0.001, n=209)
- Since higher fatality rates are correlated with higher rates of non-fatal physical injuries and psychiatric casualties, these other war-zone hazards are also likely to form part of the increased risk for soldiers who enlisted at 16.
- The relatively higher risk to those who enlist as minors applies despite the prohibition on deployment to war zones until they are 18 years of age.
Read the report: Young age at Army enlistment is associated with greater war zone risks: An analysis of British Army fatalities in Afghanistan
ForcesWatch response to the Ministry of Defence’s statement
In response to the paper, ‘Young age at Army enlistment is associated with greater war zone risks’, published by ForcesWatch and Child Soldiers International (August 2013), the Ministry of Defence have issued a statement containing a number of claims all of which are either inaccurate or not relevant to the study’s findings. Here we respond to each claim in turn.
The report uses estimated figures for some soldiers.
The study is based on 209 fatalities among British soldiers in Afghanistan. For 199 of these, the enlistment ages and enlistment dates were known and we could assign them to their enlistment age groups accordingly. For the remaining 10 individuals, the enlistment age group was uncertain but could be estimated based on the year of birth and date of enlistment. We ran the calculations including and excluding these 10 individuals and the results were the same. So the report does use some estimated figures but its results do not depend on these.
The figures are not recognised, not correctly sourced, and not based on official statistics.
We used official Ministry of Defence statistics throughout (including published intake data for the ten years we investigated and the official fatalities listing on the MoD website) with the exception of data on 27 individuals (13% of total) whose date of birth and/or date of enlistment was not recorded in the official fatalities listing. In these cases, we sourced the data from press reports or memorial websites, which we stated in the report. Had we had access to this information from official sources, we would have used it, but in our view a) it would be more misleading to exclude these individuals than to include them; and b) even had these individuals been excluded, this would not have affected the overall finding of an elevated risk in the 16 year old enlistment age group.
It is wrong and misleading to claim that the youngest recruits are channelled into the most dangerous roles.
In fact, they are. The Infantry is the most dangerous major section of the Army, with a rate of fatality in Afghanistan some six times that found in the rest of the Army. It is a quarter of the Army’s size but accounts for one third of all the Army’s minors, so minors are over-represented in the most dangerous part of the Army. Between 2007-08 and 2011-12, 35.3% of new Regular Army recruits joined Infantry regiments (39.2% of all minors and 33.8% of all adults). Many armed forces roles are barred to applicants without good GCSE results, but the Infantry does not require any qualifications, which is why many recruits who join the Army straight from school enlist into higher-risk Infantry roles. The study discusses this in a little more detail.
It is inaccurate to claim that 16 year olds are barred from certain roles.
The study does not make this claim. It says that some roles require qualifications and others do not, such that 16 year olds who leave school without good qualifications are not eligible to join most technical roles but are able to join the Infantry.
By excluding officers, reservists and Gurkhas, the study does not ‘provide an accurate comparison’.
The study investigated soldiers who died in Afghanistan and could have been recruited from age 16; this does not apply to Gurkhas, officers or reservists, so it would have been misleading to include them. As soldiers in these categories were excluded from both the fatalities data and the recruitment data, the comparisons the study makes are valid.
The Army provides challenging and constructive training opportunities to young people, especially those who join aged 16.
There is no verifiable evidence that 16 year old Army recruits eventually leave having experienced training opportunities that serve them well when they later join the civilian jobs market (typically around the age of 26), or that these recruits are better off in the Army than staying on in education or some kind of civilian training before enlisting at age 18. Some veterans are pleased with what the Army has given them, others are not. Much depends on the role a recruit joins; technical trades (e.g. mechanic) provide better quality, transferable training than does the Infantry.
Source for MoD statement: Evening Standard: ‘Young soldiers “more likely to die”’, 22 August 2013, online at http://www.standard.co.uk/panewsfeeds/young-soldiers-more-likely-to-die-8779128.html (accessed 22 August 2013)