LANDSTUHL, Germany — Grim combat statistics that one military doctor called "unbelievable" show U.S. troops in Afghanistan suffered an unprecedented number of catastrophic injuries last year, including a tripling of amputations of more than one limb.
A study by doctors at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where most wounded troops are sent before returning to the United States, confirmed their fears: The battlefield has become increasingly brutal.
In 2009, 75 service members brought to Landstuhl had limbs amputated. Of those, 21 had lost more than one limb.
But in 2010, 171 service members, 11 percent of all the casualties brought to Landstuhl, had undergone amputations, nearly double the figure from past wars. Of the 171, 65 had lost more than one limb.
Injuries to the genital area were also on the increase. In 2009, 52 casualties were brought to Landstuhl with battlefield injuries to their genitals or urinary tract. In 2010, that number was 142.
Dr. John Holcomb, a retired Army colonel with extensive combat-medicine experience, said he and other doctors involved in the study were shocked by the findings, which he labeled "unbelievable."
"Everybody was taken aback by the frequency of these injuries: the double amputations, the injuries to the penis and testicles," said Holcomb, now a medical professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. "Nothing like this has been seen before."
Military brass say the increase in catastrophic injuries can be attributed to the Taliban's use of improvised explosive devices, the roadside bombs that account for the majority of U.S. and NATO deaths and injuries. Last year was also the deadliest year for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, with 499 killed, according to the Defense Department.
The hospital at Landstuhl is the busiest it has been since the battle in the Iraqi city of Fallujah in late 2004, officials said. Both the number and severity of wounds have increased, said Air Force Lt. Col. Raymond Fang, a surgeon and trauma medical director at Landstuhl.
The average patient stays about three days at Landstuhl before being airlifted to the United States for further care. "All we're doing is clearing up the destruction done by the injury," Fang said.