The ratio of dead to wounded for British soldiers fighting in Afghanistan is approaching loss levels not seen since the Second World War, The Herald can reveal.
One UK serviceman has died in action for every five wounded in the past 21 months in Helmand province compared to one in seven for US forces in the same country over the same period.
Ministry of Defence figures obtained yesterday show that while 93 British troops have died at the hands of Taliban insurgents since the start of 2006, another 470 have been injured and hospitalised by bullet, blast or shrapnel wounds.
These include 138 with life-threatening damage and an unknown number who have had one or more limbs amputated as a result of increasingly sophisticated bomb attacks.
The last time British forces sustained combat casualties on this scale was during the advance across France, Belgium and Holland into Germany in 1944-45.
An MoD spokesman said last night: “There are fundamental differences in the way the UK and US forces operate, so we would not comment on respective casualty figures.
“There is also no comparison between current operations in Afghanistan and the Second World War. What we are seeing now is the result of combined advances in body armour and battlefield medicine which enable more wounded to survive than in any previous conflict.”
While radical changes in frontline emergency treatment and improvements in protective clothing have reduced the average loss rate to nine or 10 wounded for every fatality in recent wars, the heavy toll on British troops in Helmand reflects the nature of well-planned insurgent ambushes and the increasing deadliness of roadside booby-traps.
The UK operates a state-of-the-art field hospital at Camp Bastion, its main operational base in Afghanistan, backed up by Nato facilities at Kandahar.
The latest figures also reveal more soldiers have been hit in combat in Afghanistan in 21 months than were wounded in five-and-a-half years in Iraq, with 470 in Helmand compared to 426 in Basra.
A handful of British battalions in the thick of the action have suffered disproportionate losses against the Taliban. The Royal Anglians fired more than one million rounds during their six-month tour last year and sustained nine dead and 135 wounded.
The 2nd battalion, The Parachute Regiment, which has just returned from Helmand, had 10 men killed and at least 50 wounded.
In the Second World War, according to US records, between one in three and one in five of those wounded in combat died as a result of their injuries. In Vietnam and the 1991 Gulf war, just over one in five of those hit succumbed to wounds.
Critics, including serving officers, have claimed that the MoD masks true casualty figures by recording only the wounded admitted to field hospitals. Soldiers with minor shrapnel wounds who are patched up and returned to duty without being admitted to hospital are not included on casualty returns.
The US forces record as wounded any soldier injured in action who is out of the line for 72 hours, whether or not he returns to duty immediately or is flown out of the country for further treatment.
Meanwhile, Nato has ordered its troops in Afghanistan to pull back from firefights with the Taliban rather than call in air strikes that might kill civilians.
The insurgents have intensified their campaign and extended it to previously peaceful areas.