By Joel Brinkley
Afghan soldiers have shot and killed at least 135 of the American servicemen who were training them over the past five years, including three more on Saturday.
But the United States Agency for International Development interviewed large numbers of Afghan young people last year and found them generally to be “disenfranchised, unskilled, uneducated, neglected.” These people, it adds, “are most susceptible to joining the insurgency.”
Actually, however, multiple medical studies over the past nine years indicate that these disaffected young people are less likely to volunteer for the insurgency than they are to join the tens of millions of Afghans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, clinical depression, perpetual deep anxiety and other debilitating trauma-related mental illnesses that are rife in the country. And these mental illnesses can lead to irrational, violent acts — like killing your trainers.
By some measures Afghans may be the most traumatized people in the world — a development that is thoroughly undercutting the strategies the United States and its allies are using in Afghanistan, even as Western forces are leaving. But to this day, the American military and policymaking community does not seem even to be aware of the problem, and so they’re doing little, if anything, to compensate for it.
Afghans have been at war nearly nonstop for almost 35 years, since the Soviet invasion in 1979. One result of that: The country stands at the very top of the Political Terror Scale, meaning “terror has expanded to the whole population,” the State Department and Amnesty International said in their most recent, joint terror-scale report. And Afghanistan is three spaces shy of top placement on the State Fragility Index, published by the Center for Systemic Peace.
A Journal of the American Medical Association study of nations where wars or insurgencies are under way noted that PTSD results from “an ongoing threat of insecurity” and/or “political terror.” Numerous academic and professional studies note that it’s worse when warfare is ongoing. The studies call this “perpetual war.” That, of course, is Afghanistan.
“What has struck me many times is how few people there can actually remember a time of peace at all,” said Seth Jones, a Rand Corp. associate director who spent years working in Afghanistan for the Defense Department. “There’s a significant number of village leaders who have to deal with depression among village constituents.”
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