From the 'International Herald Tribune'
WASHINGTON: In Iraq, wounded American troops are treated at a well-equipped field hospital within one hour, regardless of where they were fighting or how bad the battle.
In Afghanistan, with its rugged terrain, their comrades are not so fortunate. Some wounded troops there do not receive advanced trauma care for almost two hours, lessening the chances of survival and rapid recovery.
Now, Robert Gates, the defense secretary, is trying to address the imbalance, directing the military to send more helicopters and a fourth field hospital to Afghanistan to guarantee that wounded Americans in Afghanistan are treated within what the military calls "the golden hour."
The order is Gates's latest foray into a Pentagon bureaucracy that he has complained is sometimes too slow to respond to the needs of the troops. It comes as the Obama administration is preparing to double American forces in Afghanistan as part of a plan to battle Al Qaeda and the Taliban more effectively.
"In Iraq, our goal is to have a wounded soldier in a hospital in an hour," Gates told Congress on Tuesday. "It's closer to two hours in Afghanistan. And so what we've been working on the last few weeks is, how do we get that medevac standard in Afghanistan down to that 'golden hour' in Iraq?"
Aides say Obama to concentrate on military efforts in Afghanistan. Gates has directed that the number of helicopters assigned to medical evacuation in Afghanistan be increased by about 25 percent. They will be drawn from army, Air Force and navy equipment, officials said. Some medical evacuation helicopters will be assigned to forward bases, closer to where troops may come into contact with adversaries, the officials said.
Gates has also directed that some of the helicopters set aside for search-and-rescue missions for downed pilots in Afghanistan be reconfigured and reassigned to medical evacuation. That represents a departure from military doctrine that calls for certain numbers of combat search-and-rescue teams to be on 24-hour call, but it was seen by Gates and his advisers an acceptable tradeoff.
"The question is, can you take a little risk there especially as we are going to have more and more forces sent to Afghanistan?" said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, who cited military statistics that no American jets or bombers had been shot down in Afghanistan in seven years.
As those new rules have been put in effect over recent weeks, the officials said, the average medical evacuation time in Afghanistan already has dropped to 71 minutes today from nearly two hours last year.
Gates had previously ordered the military to spend billions for mine-resistant troop vehicles and to spend millions more to increase combat surveillance flights in battle. In his testimony on Tuesday, he made it clear that he was dissatisfied with the response across the Pentagon's civilian and military bureaucracy.
"Efforts to put the bureaucracy on a war footing have, in my view, revealed underlying flaws in the institutional priorities, cultural preferences and reward structures of America's defense establishment, a set of institutions largely arranged to plan for future wars, to prepare for a short war, but not to wage a protracted war," Gates said.
Pentagon officials said the medical evacuation initiative did not even require purchasing new equipment or hiring additional personnel — just shifting priorities and changing assignments accordingly.
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In: Iraq, Afghanistan, Middle East
Tags: wounded American troops, Iraq, field hospital, Robert Gates, the golden hour, medical evacuation, mine-resistant troop vehicles
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