UPDATE: 3-12-12 9:30PM PST
Reuters is reporting that according to a U.S. official, the soldier accused of the shootings suffered from Traumatic Brain Injury. At the same time Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the death penalty could be sought in the U.S. military justice system against the soldier, whose name has not been publicly disclosed.
President Obama said on Monday, “No need to rush for the exits” in the wake of the shooting incidence last weekend that left 16 dead, nine of whom where children.
Afghanistan is the United States’ longest war in history, going on 11 years. Even if we left today, that could not be termed as a rush to exodus. Still, incidents like last weekend, the burning of the Quran last month, and pictures of American soldiers urinating on Afghan corpses open the door to conversations of how and when will the U.S. leave Afghanistan, and the questions are valid. Some are bold enough to ask, “Why are we still there at all?”
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan strained the U.S. military to supply enough troops to both countries for approximately eight years, while still maintaining adequate defenses at home and in other countries. This resulted in many of the military personnel serving multiple tours of duty. The man accused of the mass shootings served three tours of duty in Iraq, and this was his first tour in Afghanistan.
What impact does serving two, three, or even four tours of duty in a war zone have on an individual? The psychological scars can be invisible to everyone, even the person who is afflicted.
According to a 2008 RAND Study, 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or some form of depression. In addition, neurological damage called Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is now the signature wound of the Iraq War. The RAND study found that 19 percent of troops surveyed report TBI during deployment. These injuries are more subtle and harder to identify. It is estimated that tens of thousands of troops are suffering from either two or three psychological conditions as a result of being in a war zone.
The RAND study concluded that of the 1.7 million veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan (or now in both wars) about half a million are suffering from PTSD, depression, TBI or any combination of these. The ramifications if left untreated are family problems, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide. Later on other problems occur like unemployment and homelessness become prevalent. The costs of the psychological and neurological injuries by veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are estimated at between 4-6 billion dollars in just the two years following active combat.
The Pentagon reaction to the incident last weekend was no change in Afghanistan strategy. Pentagon spokesman George Little called the shooting incident "deplorable," but said such incidents are isolated. He said the United States will pursue what he called "accountability actions" to the fullest extent, but stressed continuity in the Afghan war effort.
"The reality is that our fundamental strategy is not changing. There has been a series of troubling incidents recently, but no one should think that we are steering away from our partnership with the Afghan people, from our partnership with the Afghan national security forces, and from our commitment to prosecute the war effort," Little said.
The shooting rampage came as a Washington Post-ABC News public opinion survey found that 55 percent of Americans say they believe most Afghans oppose U.S. objectives there, with 54 percent favoring a U.S. withdrawal, even before Afghan forces are self-sufficient.
Why is the United States pursuing a war the majority Americans do not want, and the relations between Afghanistan’s government and ours continues to be fragile and deteriorating with each incident involving U.S. military?