Mental Health of U.S. Forces in Iraq: Not Good

Tuesday, May 08, 2007 at 02:06 PM

The Mental Health Advisory Team IV Brief (MHAT), the fourth review of mental health issues of the U.S. military in Iraq, was submitted by General James T. Conway, Commandant of the Marine Corps, on April 18.

The report illuminates several issues, including how U.S. troops feel about torture,; how and how often they treat native Iraqis in ways that are likely to cause resentment of the U.S. presence there; and the effect that lengthy and multiple deployments are having on mental health.

Among the "Key Findings" are:

[NOTE: references to MHAT and OIF are to the four total assessments that have been conducted. MHAT I / OIF I (N=756) occurred September and October 2003; MHAT II / OIF II (N=2064) occurred September and October 2004; MHAT III / OIF 04-06 (N=1124) occurred October and November 2005; and the current one, MHAT IV/OIF 05-07 (N=1882) occurred August to October 2006]

  • For Soldiers, deployment length and family separation were top non-combat issues; Marines had fewer non-combat deployment concerns, perhaps due to shorter deployment lengths.
  • Multiple deployers reported higher acute stress than first-time deployers. Deployment length was related to higher rates of mental health problems.
  • Marital concerns among Soldiers are higher than in OIF 04-06, and these concerns were related to deployment length.
  • 2003-2006 OIF (Iraq only) Soldier suicide rates are higher than the average Army rate, 16.1 vs. 11.6 Soldier suicides per year per 100,000.
  • Approximately 10 percent of Soldiers and Marines report mistreating non-combatants (damaged/destroyed property when not necessary or hit/kicked non-combatant when not necessary).
  • Soldiers with high levels of combat, high levels of anger or that screened positive for a mental health problem were twice as likely to mistreat non-combatants.

The information on mistreatment of non-combatants is discouraging. A finer breakdown on what types of mistreatment occur, and the percentage of U.S. military who admit engaging in it follows:

percent reporting one or more instances of:

A. Insulting/cursing at non-combatants in their presence:

Soldiers -- 28

Marines -- 30

Damaged /destroyed Iraqi property when it was not necessary:

Soldiers -- 9

Marines -- 12

Physically hit /kicked non-combatant when it was not necessary:

Soldiers -- 4

Marines -- 7

Members of unit modify ROEs (Rules of Engagement) in order to accomplish the mission

Soldiers -- 8

Marines -- 9

Members of unit ignore ROEs in order to accomplish the mission:

Soldiers -- 5 Marines -- 7

If you take this study at face value and assume 135,000 U.S. personnel in Iraq each year, 10 percent means that some 13,500 soldiers and marines are mistreating Iraqi non-combatants each year. The total number of incidents of mistreatment is going to be higher, since the survey was phrased in terms of "one or more instances" of mistreatment.

That's not going to be winning many hearts and minds, especially since each incident of mistreatment will be communicated by the mistreated to many other Iraqis.

The attitude of soldiers and marines toward torture weren't included in the Key Findings, but Army Times had a lengthy piece on it which included the following:

More than 40 percent of soldiers and Marines who recently served in the war zone believe torture should be allowed if it would save the life of a comrade, according to a 2006 military mental health assessment.

In addition, less than half the 1,350 soldiers and only about one-third of the nearly 450 Marines polled anonymously in Iraq from August to October 2006 told members of Mental Health Advisory Team IV they believe all noncombatants should be treated with dignity and respect. ...

The study also found that 36 percent of soldiers and 39 percent of Marines believe torture should be allowed to gather information about insurgents, and 17 percent said all noncombatants should be treated as insurgents.

Again, I don't think we're likely to be winning hearts and minds with these attitudes. You can make a very good argument that this amount of mistreatment of native non-combatants means that the longer we stay there, the more enemies we're going to have. And the "surge" would accomplish what?


A war without end means headaches without end. Fire Mama's boy and Quickdraw, the solution then presents itself.