Afghan War and its Psychological Cost


As stated by Kimberly Aamadeo in the Balance Magazine in August 2018, the Afghanistan War that began in 2001 has cost $1.07 trillion. The Bush administration launched it in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks by al-Qaida. The United States attacked the Taliban in Afghanistan for hiding al-Qaida's leader, Osama bin Laden. It was the kick-off to the War on Terror.

With the Long War entering the third decade and the West’s quest for finding a solution through use of military force, there appears to be no end to this vicious cycle of destruction.

I had pointed out the cost of afghan war in an article in 2011 and raised the fundamental question:

With the so-called free media of the West as well as Islamic countries, including Pakistan (who can count the hairs on your body and make mountains out of an ant hill, when ordered by its masters),  one is surprised to find no worthwhile analysis of the psychological cost of war within the shattered zone called the AfPak.

Since the Afghan conflict is entering a new phase, it may be appropriate to conduct an analysis of Psychological cost of this war.

Taking help from my previously published work, I will repeat some of the arguments here:

The cost of this war has affected everyone; the claimants of the conquest (US-led conquistadors) as well as the innocent people of the AfPak region. If you do an intelligent surfing of the internet, you will listen to the moaning, groaning and shrieking voices of the affected families and may be able to see stream of tears and blood oozing out of tearful eyes; you may be able to feel the pain and anguish of broken families destroyed by daisy cutters and drones, who haunted the entire population of FATA and Afghanistan with buzzing sounds and have created the psychological disease of insomnia in many households (specially children and women).

I challenge the residents of London and Washington to go through a test. Let me fly the ugly drones at the frequency of two flights of a pair for two hours per night, while making sure that these drones are not armed. Let the people be told that they are armed and will only strike terrorists supposed to be hidden somewhere in these cities. To add to reality I may be allowed to create simulated noise of drone attack at the frequency of two per night. I am sure at the end of first week more than 70 percent population of London and Washington will either migrate to other cities or block the Trafalgar Square and roads around Capitol Hill from all sides demanding the overthrow of the governments.

The cost of the Long War in AfPak region cannot be measured in terms of dollars and rupees, but one can attempt to do it by raising few pertinent questions.

What has been the effect of drone attacks on the cohesiveness of the family system in Afghanistan and FATA, especially for those families whose bread earners have been martyred (for instance, how are the children and the wives of the diseased managing their affairs, and what has happened to the education of the children)?

What was the psychological fallout of the drone attack in a particular village, how many children and women have suffered from insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder and phobic anxiety

A glimpse of the psychological cost of this godforsaken Long War can be seen in the report by KOMO News and published in Aug 2011, “the US army found Staff Sergeant Jared Hagemanns body at a training area of Joint Base Lewis McChord. Sergeant Hagemanns widow said that her husband took his own life - and it didn’t need to happen. It was just horrible. And he would just cry, said Ashley Hagemann. Ashley said Jared tried to come to grips with what he had seen and done on his eight deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. And there’s no way that any God would forgive him - that he was going to hell, says Ashley. He couldn’t live with that anymore”.

More US soldiers and veterans have died from suicide than from combat wounds over the past ten years. The psychological degradation of the conquistadors is clearly visible from veterans and serving soldier’s blogs. It may be pertinent to carry out psychoanalysis of the discussion forums and blogs used by veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

A recent video by an ex-veteran of British army sleeping on the streets, went viral, where he painfully explained his ordeal of living as a homeless person, he remarked that the soldiers are sent to war to die for the Queen and the British government, but when it comes to plight of veterans, they are abandoned on the streets to sleep on footpath in freezing cold.

Coming back to Kimberly Aamadeo, who reminds the head honchos of White House and the Hill, “The real cost of the Afghanistan War is more than the $1.07 trillion added to the debt. First, and most important, is the cost borne by the 2,350 U.S. troops who died, the 20,092 who suffered injuries, and their families who have to live with the consequences.

More than 320,000 soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq have traumatic brain injury that causes disorientation and confusion. Of those, 8,237 suffered severe or invasive brain injury. In addition, 1,645 soldiers lost all or part of a limb. More than 138,000 have post-traumatic stress disorder. They experience flashbacks, hyper vigilance, and difficulty sleeping.

On average, 20 veterans commit suicide each day according to a 2016 Veterans Affairs (VA) study. The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found that 47 percent of its members knew of someone who had attempted suicide after returning from active duty. The group considers veteran suicide to be its number one issue.

The cost of veterans’ medical and disability payments over the next 40 years will be more than $1 trillion. That's according to Linda Bilmes, a senior lecturer in public finance at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “The cost of caring for war veterans typically peaks 30 to 40 years or more after a conflict,” Bilmes said.”

The Guardian report of Sep 2018 with the title, 'A national emergency: suicide rate spikes among young US veterans’ confirms figures given by The Balance, more than 6,000 veterans have killed themselves each year since 2008, according to the VA data. It is also alarming that 30% of all veterans have considered suicide as an option to overcome their PTSD.

The psychological cost of the Long War cannot be calculated by mathematical models and requires a human heart to do a passionate analysis. I will leave it to leaders of the free world, who proudly displays their championing of human rights, to have the courage to conduct an incisive analysis of cost of these wars and stop the madness of resolving conflicts through barrel of a gun.

While the Military Industrial Complex and hawks of the US would still want the Wars of Necessity to continue, President Trump should be given full marks for taking a bold decision in bringing back the American soldiers home, maybe he has done a deep analysis of the psychological cost of this long but futile war in Afghanistan.