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Danish military fatalities in international operations 2002–2018


Introduction This study describes deaths among Danish soldiers in international operations 2002–2018. Having been part of UN and later NATO forces in ex-Yugoslavia, in 2002 the first Danish contingent took part in the International Security Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan as well as Iraq. The changing role of the Danish military in international operations meant casualties, in numbers that had not yet been experienced, and necessitated a review of our procedures for handling fatalities in the military.

Methods The study is a retrospective review of autopsy reports, Military Police reports and medical reports, and the purpose is to examine all Danish fatalities in international operations in 2002–2018 to identify potential areas of improving treatment and protection and to review the contribution of the autopsies. The mechanism of injury, the fatal injuries and causes of death and the time of death within the chain of evacuation were identified. Casualties dying at any time from site of injury until definitive care were included.

Results A total of 53 soldiers died from injuries during international operations in the years 2002–2018. The majority of these (43) died from combat injuries and 10 from accidents. Four of the victims with combat injuries were not autopsied. The majority (36) of the combat deaths were caused by blast/explosions (improvised explosive devices, rocket propelled grenades, fragments), while 7 were caused by bullets. 39 combat victims died instantly on the site or at the arrival to the field hospital, 4 were treated in field hospital and 2 of these were transported back to Denmark.

Conclusions Most combat fatalities result from fragmentation and blast injury. Forensic autopsies provide valuable information regarding injuries, weaponry, the efficiency of protective equipment and the quality of medical intervention in military fatalities and are recommended in all military fatalities in order to prevent avoidable casualties in the future.

  • Forensic pathology
  • LAW (see Medical Law)

Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information.

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