Stress taking toll on U.S. military forces

Freedom New Mexico

Thursday’s shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, shocked many people who might not have previously thought about just what the ongoing war is doing to the young men and women we keep sending into battle.

Nearly 4,400 of them have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, and thousands more have been injured in this war, which already has lasted longer than our entire involvement in World War II.

As was made clear Thursday, unknown numbers of others suffer emotional and other hidden scars.

The rampage left 13 people dead and 30 more injured at the Army base near Killeen, Texas.

The alleged shooter, Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, remained in critical condition Monday at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, and investigators were trying to determine exactly what motivated him to raise arms against his fellow soldiers.

What has been disclosed so far could provide some clues.

Hasan is a psychiatrist who has dealt with the stress of combat among his fellow soldiers. He apparently believed the United States should not be fighting in the Middle East, and officials say he was scheduled to be sent to Afghanistan and didn’t want to go.

Just a few days earlier, the Army had disclosed that suicides among the military are climbing, and are linked to the stress of combat and repeated deployment. The rate has risen 37 percent since 2006. As of the end of October at least 134 active-duty soldiers had killed themselves, making it likely the number will break last year’s record of 140.

All this as the Obama administration contemplates how many more troops to send to Afghanistan and how many to bring back from Iraq, and growing numbers of Americans call for us to just stop the fighting and bring them all home.

We entered Iraq under false pretenses. And before we went into Afghanistan, the vaunted Soviet military had tried to conquer the country for more than a decade, with no success.

It’s also clear that our military strategy hasn’t given our troops the chance for success they need, and deserve.

Gen. Colin Powell, who ran the successful Persian Gulf War in 1990-91, famously set the standards that should guide any U.S. military action:

Military action should only be used as a last resort.

There must be a clear, immediate risk to our national security.

Public support for the action must be strong and widespread.

The goals and exit strategy must be clearly defined before the first shot is fired.

And, most importantly, the force that is used must be strong enough to overwhelm the opposing force.

As George W. Bush’s secretary of State, Powell could only watch as every element of his “Powell Doctrine” was violated, as then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld insisted on a leaner fighting force.

We can only speculate, of course, what might have resulted if we had better planned the war and the U.S. Central Command had gotten the troops they requested — reportedly as many as 500,000. More of our troops would have gone into battle sooner, but that overwhelming force just might have shortened the duration and made repeated, long-term deployments unnecessary.

As it stands, we remain locked in two campaigns where progress is slow, if at all, and our troops have been rotated in and out four times or even more. All that stress, as we are seeing with increasing frequency, is taking its toll on our fighting forces.

We never should have begun this extended military campaign. But once the decision was made, it should have been planned and executed at a level that ensured absolute, quick success.

We hope our troops never have to be sent into battle again. But if they must, we owe it to them — and to our country — to do the job right.