By: Chris O'Shea
There have been many arguments made against the war in Afghanistan, but perhaps the most intriguing reason that it didn't work is one that has just been proposed: The mission was over before it started, because the Afghan people were already too traumatized. This idea comes from Air Force colonel Erik Goepner, who spent over a year in Afghanistan as part of a team of "rebuilders," tasked with helping the population build up its infrastructure.
Goepner says that the United Nations troops failed in Afghanistan because the people there were too clinically ill to help themselves. He claims that far too many people have been deeply impacted by the many years of war to be able to help counteract the Taliban's ruling force. Goepner based his findings on a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that examined the mental health of Afghanistan's citizens. The JAMA study found that citizens of countries that have gone through war — like Afghanistan — have a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) rate of 30 percent or higher. For non-war impacted countries, that rate is only five percent. Goepner said this is why any attempt to "win" the war in Afghanistan was worthless.
"If an American unit had PTSD and depression rates of 30% or higher, it would likely be declared combat ineffective," wrote Goepner, according to Gizmodo. "When we conduct COIN (counterinsurgency) in weak and failed states, we are supporting a government and security force that is likewise combat, or perhaps more appropriately, mission ineffective. Mentoring and training them to a sufficient level of legitimacy and effectiveness is incredibly difficult, particularly so in the timeframes likely required by domestic political considerations at home."
Afghanistan's own director of the mental health department, Doctor Bashir Ahmad Sarwari, agrees with Goepner's assessment. "Two out of four Afghans suffer from trauma, depression and anxiety — they make up some 50 percent of the population," explained Ahmad Sarwari, to Al Aribaya News. "They are in trauma mainly because of three decades of war, poverty, family disputes and migration issues."
Goepner added that PTSD and depression among a nation's population not only hinder COIN efforts, it actively helps insurgent forces. "It makes the population more susceptible to intimidation and the belief that they themselves are incapable of changing things for the better," Goepner explained. "While this does not endear the insurgents to the population, it does keep the environment unstable and insecure over time, which is often an insurgent goal."
According to Goepner, the only way that COIN efforts will succeed is if those same forces are dedicated providing mental health assistance along with everything else. Now with what you know about war, how likely do you see that as happening? And, even if troops fly into other nations armed with rifles and shrinks, there are so many problems that arise out of that there'd be no end to it. Goepner's revelation is intriguing, and perhaps most fittingly of all, depressing. It's yet another reminder of the hopelessness that is war.
[Pic via Flickr - The U.S. Army]