77,000 body bags
February 11, 2003 http://www.news.com.au
FEARS that Iraq will inflict heavy casualties on British and American troops intensified yesterday when it emerged the Pentagon had ordered almost five times the number of body bags it requested before the last Gulf War.
Within weeks it will have more than 77,000 bags at the ready, compared with 16,000 in 1991.
In the last conflict, 148 US soldiers were killed in combat, including 35 by "friendly fire", while Iraqi forces suffered some 30,000 casualties.
The increased order will reinforce concern that Saddam might be preparing to use chemical or biological weapons.
It will also fuel speculation that planners are expecting to suffer high casualties in street fighting as the troops try to take major cities such as Basra and Baghdad.
"We hope no one dies, but you just don't know what will happen," said Frank Johnson, director of public affairs for the Defence Supply Centre in Philadelphia.
US military sources say that if soldiers are killed as a result of an Iraqi attack with chemical or biological weapons, the bodies will most probably be cremated on the battlefield to avoid the spread of contamination.
The Pentagon yesterday denied a claim by a senior Vatican official that the US was secretly shipping 100,000 body bags and 6000 coffins to a military base in Sicily.
But it admitted that it has 34,000 of the bags stored at military bases around the world and available to be sent to the Gulf at short notice.
It has ordered another 8890 for delivery this week and is about to sign a contract for another 30,000 to be delivered next month.
That will bring the total to 72,890 of the black vinyl bags. Each bag has a full-length zip and six handles and costs $70. The Pentagon is also buying 3500 heavier duty olive-green bags at a cost of $150 each.
These bags are coated with rubber and are used to lift bodies by helicopter from rugged terrain. Hundreds of coffins have also been ordered for those soldiers flown back to the US for burial.