Young age at Army enlistment is associated with greater war zone risks: An analysis of British Army fatalities in Afghanistan: report

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A young British soldier. Photograph: Shawn Baldwin/EPA

David Gee and Anna Goodman -

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 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.

Published by ForcesWatch and Child Soldiers International, August 2013



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