As they watch Iraq’s mounting body count and potential slide into civil war, some Iraq War veterans are more intensely questioning why they went, what it all meant, and whether the deaths of 4,486 U.S. troops on that foreign soil were worth the permanent cost.
And 10 years after the Iraq invasion, the deployment and re-deployments of 1.5 million Americans, the subsequent execution of ex-leader Saddam Hussein, the rise of new acronyms like IED and PTSD, and a jarring suicide epidemic, a portion of former Iraq War troops say the mental-health struggles faced by so many younger veterans may consequently deepen.
“You think about the guys who lost their lives in World War II, at least there was a higher purpose for risking your life,” said Andrew O’Brien, an Army convoy gunner who served in Iraq during 2008 and 2009, surviving an IED blast. He attempted suicide in 2010. “Now that I’m hearing about this, all I think about is the guys we lost in Iraq. It’s hard to not think that it meant nothing.”
O’Brien, 25, diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, just completed a six-week speaking tour during which he detailed his post-war experience as part of his suicide-prevention work. During his travels, he said he met dozens of Iraq veterans who are “still trying to figure out what happened out there,” who came home angry, confused, and depressed.
“This is just going to add a lot to that anger. It will increase risk. It will increase the possibility of people getting more upset and not handling it,” O’Brien said. “A lot of guys already were asking me: ‘What was the point? Why did my friend die but nothing is changing over there?’ Now, it’s not that nothing is changing; it’s changing but it’s getting worse. So I see them as thinking, I risked my life and I got shot, and I got blown up — for what?”
During July, almost 700 people in Iraq have been killed in militant attacks, including car bombs, ambushes and gun fights. The violence spike coincides with Sunday's escape by senior Al Qaeda leaders from Baghdad’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison. Reports estimate that between 250 and 500 militants fled their cells. The freeing of those militants adds to fears that the country is in the midst of another civil war as Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis have yet to find a stable way to share power.
"Personally, it's frustrating to see this. We understood our mission was to create enough space for the Iraqi military and government to competently operate. That space was opened with the grit of American and Iraqi forces and measured in blood," Horton said. "In one of their biggest tests since the surge, the Iraqi military not only failed us, but their own people."
Others are concerned about the impact that Iraq’s summer unraveling may have on the morale of active-duty troops who once fought there and who now are trying to finish the equally grinding mission in Afghanistan.
"One of our roles was to shred their national identity. What is happening today is a direct result of the U.S. occupation's strategy," added Prysner, 30. "I remember the Iraqi government being setup along ethnic lines by the U.S. occupation. I remember arming certain ethnic groups to fight others. I'll live the rest of my life knowing I was a part of that."
This is the update to the so-called "Just War"
With 100% accuracy written at LastDayWatchers
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