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'US troops in Iraq losing stomach for fight'
March 26, 2004 20:41 IST
Nearly three quarters American soldiers polled in Iraq said their battalion level command leadership is 'poor' and shows 'a lack of concern' for their soldiers.
The latest survey was part of a study initiated by the army last summer after a number of suicides provoked concern about the mental well being of soldiers in Iraq.
The study faults the army for how it handles mental health problems, saying that some counsellors felt inadequately trained.
It also cites problems in distribution of anti-depressant medication and sleeping pills. Some of the anti-depressant pills, the Food and Drug Administration has said subsequently, encourages suicidal tendencies.
"Perhaps the most surprising findings were the grim conclusions about troop morale, which indicate that Iraq is taking a toll that goes beyond casualty figures," The Washington Post said.
"The Pentagon has been intensely worried that more frequent and longer combat tours will prompt more soldiers to get out of the Army rather than re-enlist, especially if it means a second stint in Iraq or Afghanistan. Army insiders say it is likely that brigades from three divisions that served in Iraq over the past year--the 101st Airborne, the 3rd Infantry and the 4th Infantry -- are likely to be sent back in 2005," the survey said.
The Pentagon data on morale, said the Post, also appear to give official confirmation to a more informal survey conducted last summer by Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper.
That survey found about half the troops who filled out questionnaire's described their units' morale as low and their training as insufficient, and said they did not plan to re-enlist.
The guerrilla war or insurgency or terrorism is taking its toll especially because it was unexpected.
American political leaders who sent the soldiers into battle without UN sanction had predicted confidently that Iraqis would welcome the Americans as liberators and receive the soldiers with fruits and flowers. Instead, they are facing bullets, especially in the 'Sunni triangle' but not entirely confined to that area.
Colonel Virgil Patterson, who oversaw the army survey, said he was 'somewhat surprised' by the findings on troop morale.
He noted that when the survey was taken, soldiers were still feeling the effects of a brutally hot Iraqi summer, and that since then troops have better living conditions and are better able to communicate with their families.
Patterson said he could not place the numbers in a historical context because similar surveys had not been conducted before.
This is the first time we have ever gone into an active combat theatre and asked soldiers how they are doing, so we have a comparative data," he said.
The study, conducted from late August through early October 2003, surveyed 756 army soldiers in Iraq and Kuwait, focusing on units that had engaged in combat.
Reaction to the results of the army survey was mixed among experts.
"It is not particularly surprising, especially given the frustrating nature of the combat they are facing now, with patrols and bombs going off," said Col (retd) Robert Killebrew, a Vietnam veteran.
"I would be extremely worried by the numbers. Having more than half the soldiers surveyed say they are unhappy should set off alarm bells," a senior army commander who spoke to The Washington Post said.
Jonathan Shay, a war veterans' psychiatrist, called it a 'painful report to lead'.
Shay, who has written two books on cohesion and leadership problems in the US military during the Vietnam War, said the report shows that morale and cohesion are 'extremely low' among troops in Iraq.
The official study faults the Army's handling of the mental health issues for troops and calls for the appointment of a 'czar' to coordinate such services in Iraq and Kuwait.
Patterson said that a medical specialist will fill the new position next month.
In its findings on suicide, the study confirmed data previously released by the army, namely that the rate among soldiers in Iraq in 2003 was higher than for the army generally but lower than that of US men of a similar age range
There were 23 confirmed suicides among army troops in Iraq in 2003 -- a rate of 15.6 per 100,000 soldiers. That compares with an army average in recent years of 11.9.
Colonel Bruce Crow, an army psychologist and expert in suicide prevention, said that soldiers who killed themselves generally tended to be younger, unmarried men.