Casualty Estimates for Conflict with Iran

I noted today, via tweet from President Trump, that “..when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General.”

Now, we have done a few casualty estimates for conflicts: 1) The 1991 Gulf War estimate done by Trevor Dupuy that was briefed to the House Armed Services committee in 1990 and was the source of his book If War Comes, 2)  the Bosnia casualty estimate that The Dupuy Institute did for the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JSC) in 1995. This is discussed in depth in Appendix II of America’s Modern Wars, and 3) The Iraq casualty estimate that we did in 2004 for Center of Army Analysis (CAA) and OSD Net Assessment. This is discussed in depth in the first Chapter of America’s Modern Wars. So, we know something about casualty estimation and actually have a documented, provable track record.

We have no idea what casualty estimation was done for a strike or conflict with Iran. We have not been involved in that. Most likely, if a properly developed casualty estimation was done, it was done with a range of results. For example, our Bosnia estimate was that in the case of an extended deployment (which is what was done) it was estimated that there was a 50% chance that U.S. killed from all causes in Bosnia in the first year would be below 17 (12 combat deaths and 5 non-combat fatalities) and a 90% chance U.S. killed would be below 25 (see page 308 in America’s Modern Wars).

So, I am guessing that President Trump was not told that there would be 150 killed, he was probably given a range of estimates, of which that was probably the upper boundary of that range. Still, these numbers get people’s attention. I gave a briefing one morning on our Iraq estimate after a three-day weekend…and as one colonel commented during the briefing “This is a hell of a briefing to wake up to after a long weekend.” (see page 18, America’s Modern Wars).

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Christopher A. Lawrence
Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience.
Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation.
His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) , The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019), The Battle for Kyiv (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2023), Aces at Kursk (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024), Hunting Falcon: The Story of WWI German Ace Hans-Joachim Buddecke (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024) and The Siege of Mariupol (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2024).
Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

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