What is Killed in Action?

Introduction

Killed in action (KIA) is a casualty classification generally used by militaries to describe the deaths of their own combatants at the hands of hostile forces.

Background

The United States Department of Defence, for example, says that those declared KIA need not have fired their weapons but have been killed due to hostile attack. KIAs include those killed by friendly fire in the midst of combat, but not from incidents such as accidental vehicle crashes, murder or other non-hostile events or terrorism. KIA can be applied both to front-line combat troops and to naval, air and support troops. Someone who is killed in action during a particular event is denoted with a † (dagger) beside their name to signify their death in that event or events.

Further, KIA denotes a person to have been killed in action on the battlefield whereas died of wounds (DOW) relates to someone who survived to reach a medical treatment facility. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) also uses DWRIA, rather than DOW, for “died of wounds received in action”. However, historically, militaries and historians have used the former acronym.

PKIA means presumed killed in action. This term is used when personnel are lost in battle, initially listed missing in action (MIA), but after not being found, are later presumed to have not survived. This is typical of naval battles or engagements on other hostile environments where recovering bodies are difficult. A very large number of soldiers killed in action went unidentified in World War I, like the son of British poet Rudyard Kipling, prompting the formation of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

NATO Definition

NATO defines killed in action or a battle casualty as a combatant who is killed outright or who dies as a result of wounds or other injuries before reaching a medical treatment facility or help from fellow comrades.

Refer to Prisoner of War (POW), Missing in Action (MIA), and Wounded in Action (WIA).

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