Many Taliban have served 10, 20 or even 30 (one-year) tours in Afghanistan, yet the Pentagon continues to ignore their suffering and refuses to test for and treat Taliban prisoners with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). This situation has come to light due to the massacre of 16 Afghan civilians last week by U.S. Army Sergeant Robert Bales. The reaction in the United States to the massacre has largely been one of sympathy for poor Sgt. Bales! The American news media continues to highlight that this is his fourth combat tour and that he might well be suffering from PTSD. PTSD is a psychiatric condition brought on by one or more concussions, or from a combat injury, or from exposure to at least one traumatic combat event. There is also a discussion ongoing in the United States as to whether money problems or poor relations with his wife caused him to murder 16 people.
While PTSD is an actual disorder, the U.S. Government’s concern for this disorder is dubious. This author and The Kabul Press have for years been highlighting the shoddy body armor and other safety gear that the Pentagon provides to its troops and which the State Department provides to its diplomats. That shoddy armor has contributed significantly to these PTSD injuries, but no one in the Obama Administration or in Congress has been willing to support The Kabul Press’ position and therefore nothing has changed.
The facts are that National Football League players wear helmets with far superior concussion protection that anything provided to U.S. troops. The NFL players have helmets measured and constructed to their unique head shapes and their helmets are filled with layers of small shock absorbers. There is hearing protection available in the United States which is constructed after a mold is taken of each ear. The goal is to construct protection tailored to each person in order to maximize noise reduction. No American soldier is provided with such protection. There have been amazing advances in flak vest blast protection and in ballistic protection by layering titanium with rigid Kevlar. The Pentagon and State Department have refused to adopt any of these advances. American schoolchildren can purchase Kevlar backpacks that are superior to most of the protection provided to U.S. diplomats.
It may turn out that 50% of the U.S. casualties suffered to-date in Iraq and Afghanistan would never have happened if this superior safety gear had been provided. These casualties continue every day because Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would rather spend a billion dollars on a glittering new embassy in London and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta refuses to kill a failing weapons system such as the Marine Corps’ version of the F-35.
As the United States cares little about its disposable soldiers, Marines, sailors and diplomats, so too does it care little for the Taliban. If the U.S. military really cared about PTSD, then every suspected Taliban who is detained would be screened for PTSD and provided treatment and counseling. If this is a serious disorder and if persons with it are not responsible for their acts, even mass murder, then such a defense must also hold for captured Taliban and for all those at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo.
It may be that a captured Taliban has money problems or family problems or suffers from the stress of too many deployments. If so the goal should be to treat them and not punish them. Taking all of that into consideration, the Pentagon should issue the following new direction to its forces in Afghanistan.
Pentagon’s New PTSD Policy - Afghanistan
“Effective immediately, all U.S. military members need to remember that the Taliban adversary and suicide bomber they encounter might very well be suffering from PTSD. Violence therefore should be used as a last resort. Efforts should be made to communicate with them in an attempt to establish a rapport. The goal is to care for and treat all those with PTSD so that they may eventually lead happy and productive lives.”