The detailed mental health survey of troops in Iraq released by the Pentagon on Friday highlights a growing worry for the United States as it struggles to bring order to Baghdad: the high level of combat stress suffered during lengthy and repeated tours.
The fourth in a continuing series, the report suggested that extended tours and multiple deployments, among other policy decisions, could escalate anger and increase the likelihood that soldiers or marines lash out at civilians, or defy military ethics.
That is no small concern since the United States’ counterinsurgency doctrine emphasizes the importance of winning the trust and support of the local population.
The report was provided in November to Gen. George W. Casey Jr., then the senior American commander in Iraq.
Pentagon officials have not explained why the public release of the report was delayed, a move that kept the data out of the public debate as the Bush administration developed its plan to build up troops in Iraq and extend combat tours. Rear Adm. Richard R. Jeffries, a medical officer, told reporters on Friday that the timing was decided by civilian Pentagon officials.
On Friday, when the report was released, I noted:
“By Monday, this report will never have happened.”
Clearly, I was wrong. If they had wanted to do anything about it, they would have done something (other than delay its release) in the preceding four months. And they certainly wouldn’t have extended tours of duty even more. I apologize to our readers, and note that the sentence above should be replaced with:
“By four months ago, this report will never have happened.”