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Hullabaloo


Thursday, January 31, 2008

 
Suicide Watch

by dday


We can now put a number on it, the next President is most likely to have 130,000 troops in Iraq on Inauguration Day.

Senior U.S. military commanders here say they want to freeze troop reductions starting this summer for at least a month, making it more likely that the next administration will inherit as many troops in Iraq as there were before President Bush announced a "surge" of forces a year ago.

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, will probably argue for what the military calls an operational "pause" at his next round of congressional testimony, expected in early April, another senior U.S. military official here said. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and top military officers have said they would like to see continued withdrawals throughout this year, but Bush has indicated he is likely to be guided by Petraeus's views.

Bush trumpeted the success of his Iraq strategy during his State of the Union address this week. But if he agrees with Petraeus's expected recommendation, the administration will not be able to reduce troop levels much below what they were in early 2007, when Bush began to deploy additional forces.


It sounds like they'll get down to pre-surge levels and then go into a full-bore Friedman strategy until the end of Bush's term. Democrats in Congress have no strategy for any opposition, so they might as well be invisible. The risk, of course, is that a worn-down Army, which wants tours of duty to be reduced back to 12 months from the current 15, simply splinters. And that's not an abstract concept. It's revealed in this stunning article by Dana Preist.

Lt. Elizabeth Whiteside, a psychiatric outpatient at Walter Reed Army Medical Center who was waiting for the Army to decide whether to court-martial her for endangering another soldier and turning a gun on herself last year in Iraq, attempted to kill herself Monday evening. In so doing, the 25-year-old Army reservist joined a record number of soldiers who have committed or tried to commit suicide after serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.

"I'm very disappointed with the Army," Whiteside wrote in a note before swallowing dozens of antidepressants and other pills. "Hopefully this will help other soldiers." She was taken to the emergency room early Tuesday. Whiteside, who is now in stable physical condition, learned yesterday that the charges against her had been dismissed.


There were 121 soldier suicides last year, and 2,100 cases of self-inflicted injury or attempted suicide. And this is bucking the historical trend.

The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have placed severe stress on the Army, caused in part by repeated and lengthened deployments. Historically, suicide rates tend to decrease when soldiers are in conflicts overseas, but that trend has reversed in recent years. From a suicide rate of 9.8 per 100,000 active-duty soldiers in 2001 -- the lowest rate on record -- the Army reached an all-time high of 17.5 suicides per 100,000 active-duty soldiers in 2006.

Last year, twice as many soldier suicides occurred in the United States than in Iraq and Afghanistan.


What's breaking is not necessarily revealed in Iraq but when these psychologically scarred men and women return home, without adequate medical care or mental health treatment at their service. It's as big a landmine as the next President will have to face; being handed an Army that is withered to the core, and then if he or she attempts to pull out of Iraq to save the military, being chastised by the neocon faction about hating the country and loving to lose, etc., etc.

Quite a tragedy.


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