War has troops at breaking point
Published: Sunday, March 25, 2012
Updated: Sunday, March 25, 2012 20:03
The longest war in United States history is stretching our troops to the breaking point.
Cases of troop misconduct over the last few months show a dangerous tension growing between some of our soldiers and the Afghan population they are tasked with protecting.
It now seems relations between U.S. soldiers and the Afghan people have crumbled beyond repair. In January, it was the video of Marines urinating on dead Taliban fighters that killed the chance of ever totally winning hearts and minds. Then in February, the burning of Qurans on a U.S. base, which sparked a wave of protests, effectively drove the final nail in that coffin.
A recent rampage by an Army officer in Afghanistan is forcing overdue attention on the growing epidemic of mental health injuries sustained by our service men and women. This epidemic is making it all-but-impossible to win in this war effort.
The March 11 slaying of 17 Afghan civilians in a nighttime shooting spree by a U.S. soldier is the latest incident to manifest the overwhelming burden of wartime stress on the minds of our troops. The accused shooter, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, was serving in his third tour of duty and reportedly suffered from a traumatic brain injury from a previous tour, according to The Seattle Times.
Like Bales, 22 percent of active duty Army troops are on at least their third combat tour, according to The Christian Science Monitor, and “more than 50,000 of those currently in uniform have completed four or more combat tours.” Outside of the physical injuries that come with combat duty, these repeated tours are taking a drastic toll on troops’ mental health.
An Army health report “finds that troops are more likely to commit suicide and violent sex offenses, and notes that as many as 236,000 suffered from [post-traumatic stress disorder] since the beginning of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
And the very nature of the war in Afghanistan is taxing on the psychological health of the men and women who fight it. Combating insurgents who engage in guerrilla warfare tactics is much different than facing an enemy with a uniform.
While the psychological trauma brought by repeated combat does not typically cause troops to go ballistic and commit a serial killing, it can certainly lead to other tragedies such as suicide. According to Bloomberg, during the five years following major troop deployments to the Middle East, there has been an unprecedented 80-percent surge in U.S. Army suicides. Each of these casualties is arguably a victory for the enemy.
In truth, supporting our troops should now mean ending support for this decade-long engagement in Afghanistan.