Of “Green-on-Blue” Killings, and Army Suicides

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Battleland's Mark Thompson and PBS' Jeff Brown on the NewsHour

Battleland was invited to be on Friday’s PBS NewsHour, but this invitation had a twist that made it different than all that had come before. Host Jeff Brown and his producer, Dan Sagalyn, wanted a two-fer: first, they wanted to discuss the latest “green on blue” killings in Afghanistan. But they also wanted to ask questions about the July’s surprising Army suicide numbers, showing that suicide among soldiers is now 50% higher than among their age-adjusted civilian cohort.

As we tried to explain in the segment, after 10 years of war perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised at either of these outcomes. They both involve killing – the heart of warfare – but in a perverse way. In one case, our allies seem to be increasingly turning on us. In the second, soldiers are increasingly turning on themselves.

It’s plain that warfare is an unnatural state, and occupying a nation for more than a decade is going to send foes looking for vulnerabilities. We saw that with the rise of explosive-improvised devices in Iraq – the U.S. was woefully unprepared for their use – and we’re seeing it again in Afghanistan as a small number of its fighters sign up for military service only for the opportunity to kill their trainers.

We’re also witnessing its impact in the rise of soldier suicides as legions are sent off to war again and again. Last week, the Army suggested it’s the decompression from the wars – when soldiers finally realize they can get off the combat treadmill – that is causing problems back home. Families suddenly become relevant again, reintegration can falter, and depression leading to suicide may be occurring.

Both the green-on-blue killings and suicides have gotten a lot of attention lately, but no clear answers have surfaced. War, alas, has its own peculiar logic, and sometimes the world’s most costly military seems powerless to combat all of its challenges, whether on the battlefield or the home front.