The Panjwai MassacreMarch 21, 2012
Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, a trained sniper, killed 16 civilians including 9 children, 4 men and 3 women in a single incident in the Panjwai District in Kandahar.
Bales had 11 years military experience and 3 tours of Iraq under his belt. He surrendered after the incident and is currently being held in a military prison in the USA
The circumstances surrounding the soldier’s mental state at the time of the incident remain unclear but must be relevant.
Why would a 38 year old father of two, with 11 years of military experience find himself, at three o’clock in the morning, walking towards the homes of innocent civilians and once there, brutally slaughtering men women and children together before attempting to set the bodies alight? Was there something in this soldier’s history which could and should have been picked up? Did he show signs of mental illness prior to this incident? Any investigation into the incident will have to consider the mental state of the soldier. His US Attorney has already said that Bales suffered a head injury prior to the incident and should have been declared unfit for deployment to Afghanistan. PTSD may also have been an issue, and questions are already being asked at a Washington hospital about the diagnosis of PTSD in US soldiers; the New York Times is pursuing an investigation.
There can of course be no justification for the senseless killings carried out on innocent civilians but as well as grieving for those killed, we must also continue to try to understand and to support our armed forces whose mental and physical well being are consistently put on the line by their country and try to ensure as best we can that incidents like this one are never repeated. These men and women who serve their countries live with the constant fear of attack and as well trained as they may be, there can be no training to help them deal with the horrific sights they are faced with. It is therefore of the highest importance that they receive the best of our medical care and the best of our medical support. We must remember that the danger in the vast majority of cases is that they will harm themselves rather than others and that this, too, must be prevented
Mental health problems among our soldiers is a problem which I am afraid is only going to get worse. The sad truth is that there are always going to be wars; as a result the number of military compensation claims is going to continue to rise. In respect of mental illnesses such as PTSD personnel in the Army, Navy and Air Force finally seem willing to look for answers and ask why this happened to them and what could and should have been done to prevent it. We hope that we can help them find those answers and that, in doing so, we can force the MOD to address the current inadequacies of their support and treatment systems which should therefore result in their improvement of it.