Confessions of a Drone Warrior

Killing with drones and PTSD

Killing with drones and PTSD

He was an experiment, really. One of the first recruits for a new kind of warfare in which men and machines merge. He flew multiple missions, but he never left his computer. He hunted top terrorists, saved lives, but always from afar. He stalked and killed countless people, but could not always tell you precisely what he was hitting. Meet the21st-century American killing machine. who’s still utterly, terrifyingly human

From the darkness of a box in the Nevada desert, he watched as three men trudged down a dirt road in Afghanistan. The box was kept cold—precisely sixty-eight degrees—and the only light inside came from the glow of monitors. The air smelled spectrally of stale sweat and cigarette smoke. On his console, the image showed the midwinter landscape of eastern Afghanistan’s Kunar Province—a palette of browns and grays, fields cut to stubble, dark forests climbing the rocky foothills of the Hindu Kush. He zoomed the camera in on the suspected insurgents, each dressed in traditional shalwar kameez, long shirts and baggy pants. He knew nothing else about them: not their names, not their thoughts, not the thousand mundane and profound details of their lives.

He was told that they were carrying rifles on their shoulders, but for all he knew, they were shepherd’s staffs.… Read more

Young British army recruits at higher risk of PTSD and suicide, says report

Former soldiers criticise MoD recruitment practices, with Britain one of only 19 countries to allow 16-year-olds to join up

Soldiers who joined the army before they were 18 are significantly more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other serious mental health problems when leaving the forces, according to a report published on Monday.

Younger recruits also have a higher risk of alcohol problems, depression and suicide than those who signed up as adults, claims the report, The Last Ambush, from ForcesWatch, which campaigns for ethical recruitment in the armed forces.

Britain is one of just 19 countries that recruit 16-year-olds into the army. Zimbabwe recently increased its minimum soldiering age to 18.

Under-18s are over-represented in the infantry – the report says that over the past five years 32% of all under-18s recruited joined the infantry, which makes up only 14% of Britain’s armed forces. Recruits cannot be deployed to the frontline until they turn 18.

David Buck joined the army at 17, saw active duty in Kosovo when he was just 19, and witnessed mass graves and burning bodies. On returning to civilian life at 26 he was diagnosed with PTSD, which he attributes to seeing such horrific images at such a young age.… Read more

British army: one young recruit’s story

Britain is one of just 19 countries that still recruit 16-year-olds to the armed forces. A new report from ForcesWatch claims that younger recruits are more likely to suffer from PTSD, alcohol problems and suicide than those who join as adults. This video tells the story of David Buck who joined the army at 17 but now feels he was conned by misleading recruitment marketing.

Britain is one of just 19 countries that still recruit 16-year-olds to the armed forces. A new report from ForcesWatch claims that younger recruits are more likely to suffer from PTSD, alcohol problems and suicide than those who join as adults. This video tells the story of David Buck who joined the army at 17 but now feels he was conned by misleading recruitment marketing.

Read more

War trauma hits young soldiers hardest: new report

Post-war mental health problems are most common in young soldiers from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Read the ForcesWatch response to the Ministry of Defence’s statement about this report

Young soldiers recruited from disadvantaged backgrounds are substantially more likely than other troops to return from war experiencing problems with their mental health, says a wide-ranging report published today by human rights group ForcesWatch.

The report, The Last Ambush: Aspects of mental health in the British armed forces, draws on over 150 sources, including 41 British military mental health studies, as well as testimony from veterans. It shows that, compared with older personnel, younger recruits are significantly more likely to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), to drink at levels harmful to health, and to behave violently on their return from war. Young recruits from disadvantaged backgrounds are at greatest risk.

Citing studies of large, representative samples of the armed forces, the report finds that:

  • 8%  of Iraq War veterans who enlisted without GCSEs or Scottish Standards met the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after their deployment, compared with 4%  in the armed forces as a whole and 3%  in the general population.(i) Personnel without GCSEs typically enlist at younger ages.
  • 26%  of personnel aged 18-24 were found to be drinking at levels harmful to health, which is twice  the 13%  average for the armed forces and more than three times  the 8%  rate found among civilians of similar age.(ii)
  • 24%  of Iraq War veterans in the lowest ranks, who are typically the youngest, reported behaving violently in the weeks following their homecoming; the average rate across the armed forces was 13% .(iii) The rate of violent offending among Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans after their deployment was twice  what is was before they enlisted.(iv)
  • Over the past 20 years, the suicide rate has been 82%  higher among male soldiers under 20 than among civilian men of the same age.(v) The suicide rate among former armed forces personnel aged under 20 has been nearly three times as high as that in the same age group in the general population (between 1996 and 2005).(vi)

Given that there remains a stigma in the armed forces attached to reporting mental health issues and most studies do not assess personnel fully anonymously, the true prevalence of mental health problems is likely to be higher than these figures suggest.(vii)

As a group, younger personnel from adverse childhood backgrounds are both more vulnerable to war stress and over-represented in front-line Infantry roles where exposure to traumatic experiences is greatest, the report explains.… Read more

ForcesWatch response to the Ministry of Defence’s statement about The Last Ambush, 28 October 2013

In response to The Last Ambush report, the Ministry of Defence has issued a statement containing some claims that are either inaccurate or not relevant to the report’s findings. Here we respond to each claim in turn.

In response to The Last Ambush report, the Ministry of Defence has issued a statement containing some claims that are either inaccurate or not relevant to the report’s findings. Here we respond to each claim in turn.

MoD: The report ignores the benefits of a military career, such as education, training and employment.

The report does not explore these questions because that is not its purpose, which is to review the available research on mental health problems in the armed forces.

MoD: Independent research shows the rates of PTSD are similar to rates in the civilian population and the rates of suicide are actually lower.

The most recent study of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans across all branches, roles, ranks and ages found a rate of PTSD of 4.2%. The rate found in the general population in England in the most authoritative study available found a rate of 3.0%, or 2.7% if adjusted to reflect the gender profile of the armed forces, which provides a more appropriate comparison.… Read more

MoD study sets out how to sell wars to the public

Families angry at proposal to lower profile of repatriation ceremonies

Families angry at proposal to lower profile of repatriation ceremonies

Read the MoD thinktank’s study

The armed forces should seek to make British involvement in future wars more palatable to the public by reducing the public profile of repatriation ceremonies for casualties, according to a Ministry of Defence unit that formulates strategy.

Other suggestions made by the MoD thinktank in a discussion paper examining how to assuage “casualty averse” public opinion include the greater use of mercenaries and unmanned vehicles, as well as the SAS and other special forces, because it says losses sustained by the elite soldiers do not have the same impact on the public and press.

The document, written in November 2012 and obtained by the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act, discusses how public reaction to casualties can be influenced and recommends that the armed forces should have “a clear and constant information campaign in order to influence the major areas of press and public opinion”.

It says that to support such a campaign the MoD should consider a number of steps, one of which would be to “reduce the profile of the repatriation ceremonies” – an apparent reference to the processions of hearses carrying coffins draped in the union flag that were driven through towns near RAF bases where bodies were brought back.

Read more

Tortured: Young Army recruit tells how he went AWOL after becoming a victim of brutal bullying

“It all lasted about 10 minutes. If it was to happen in civvy street, all those lads in that picture would be arrested. But it’s a normal day in the Army.”

A teenage soldier is pinned to a bed with his trousers pulled down – as comrades ­torture him for ­refusing to go out drinking.

These distressing images – printed with the permission of the victim – today expose an alleged culture of brutal bullying inside one of Britain’s most decorated regiments.

Taken at the German headquarters of the famous Rifles infantry division, they show the recruit – fresh out of basic training – being stripped half naked, tied up and subjected to humiliating physical abuse by soldiers in the same unit.

His hands and feet are bound together with tape as four soldiers pin him to the floor.

In one image, an attacker is shown targeting his genitals. In another, he is held face-down as he desperately tries to protect his bare backside with his bound hands.

The victim, 18, whose identity we are ­protecting, has returned to the UK after going absent without leave and faces time in a military jail.

He said of the abuse he has suffered: “You learn to take it.… Read more

On Army’s importance, differing views among young and old

As the British Army struggles to recruit new soldiers, YouGov polling finds that Britons tend to think less of the army’s importance the younger they are

As the British Army struggles to recruit new soldiers, YouGov polling finds that Britons tend to think less of the army’s importance the younger they are

The British Army faces a recruitment crisis as the government’s decision to close dozens of recruitment offices and hand a £440m contract to outsourcing firm Capita is failing. New research by YouGov finds that the further down the age-scale you go, fewer Britons see the Army and the Army Reserves as important.

While 90% of 40-59 year olds and 93% of those over 60 see the army as important to Britain’s national interests, 82% of 25-39 year olds and 54% of 18-24 year olds feels the same.… Read more

Soldiers step in to rescue Army recruiting

Up to 1,000 soldiers are being sent to Army recruitment offices after a privatised service to attract new personnel ran into difficulties.

Up to 1,000 soldiers are being sent to Army recruitment offices after a privatised service to attract new personnel ran into difficulties.

Many of the soldiers are returning to roles vacated by troops only last year when the Ministry of Defence awarded Capita a £440 million contract to run the service.

One officer in the Territorial Army, which is struggling to attract new recruits, described the situation as “madness”. Another military source said the term “strategic failure” was being used.

The need for reinforcements raises concerns over the Army’s handling of the ten-year outsourcing deal — a move that the Royal Navy and RAF decided not to replicate.

It will also call into question Capita’s ability to fulfil its side of the bargain.… Read more