Suicide, not combat, is the leading cause of death in soldiers deployed to the Middle East to fight the so-called Islamic State.
Out of the 31 troops who have died since December 27th, 2014, in Operation Inherent Resolve, 11 have taken their own lives, according to newly released Pentagon statistics.
According to USA Today eight have died in combat, seven in accidents and four succumbed to illness or injury. While one other death remains under investigation.
The reasons why suicide ranks as the highest cause of troop deaths is poorly understood, according to experts on military suicide.
Speaking to USA Today, Rajeev Ramchand, a senior behavioural scientist at the Rand Corp. who has studied military suicide said there are a ‘multitude of factors’.
“They are also picking up on a trend toward more suicide in the U.S. population as a whole. Maybe there’s a universal stress on everyone in the military that affects them in profound ways,” he added.
Due to the nature of fighting between the army and Daesh, direct fights have been a rarity – with U.S. led airstrikes being the main means of attack.
Their military estimates that warplanes and drones have killed 50,000 fighters from the terrorist organisation.
Thousands of American troops have been deployed to train and assist Iraq’s army, but thousands more have been sent to provide security and perform logistical duties.
Hundreds of U.S. commandos are also on the ground in Iraq and Syria, conducting raids to capture or kill ISIS leaders and help local groups of fighters.
The largest loss of life in a single incident in the war took place in Jordan last month, when three Special Forces soldiers were shot by a guard as they tried to enter an air base. Their deaths remain under investigation.
But it’s suicide which is the main problem in the military. According to Rachmand, the rate of suicide doubled between 2001 and 2010, peaking in 2005 in the midst of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The army has the highest percentage among the services for suicide. Of the 269 active-duty troops who took their own lives in 2014, 122 were soldiers.
Retired general Peter Chiarelli is calling for a research effort, focusing on changes in the brain caused by depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress.
“This really is an illness. It’s not because you’re weak,” he said.
If you’re currently in the military or a veteran Stop Soldier Suicide offers amazing support for when things get tough.
The helpline and web chat service are open 9am to 5pm EST, from Monday to Friday.
You can call them free on: 844-889-5610.