This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.
There’s a lot we don’t know yet about the tragic shooting rampage in Afghanistan on Sunday, allegedly by a lone Stryker soldier from Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
We don’t know yet what set him off and led to the murders of 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children and three women. Was it alcohol, drugs, mental illness, stress related to having already served three tours in Iraq? A combination of one or more of those factors?
We don’t know yet why someone who works with the staff sergeant – a 38-year-old soldier, 11-year veteran, husband and father – didn’t recognize that he was troubled and get him some kind of help. The Army has been promoting its increased focus on mental health services for U.S. troops, especially in light of higher rates of suicide and stress related to serving in war zones.
What we do know is that this horror story is not helpful to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, that it only feeds into the hands of the Taliban and other radical Islamists who want NATO forces out of the country so that they can again control it.
Following so closely on the heels of the Quran-burning incident by U.S. soldiers and a video of soldiers urinating on dead militants, it sends the unfortunate message that American forces are an occupying force with little respect for the people of Afghanistan.
And it certainly doesn’t help the tarnished image of JBLM. Three of its Stryker soldiers were sentenced to prison terms for participating in the 2010 murders of three Afghan civilians. Media outlets have picked up on a local antiwar veterans group’s label of JBLM as a “rogue base.” The most recent rampage just feeds into that narrative, despite the fact that it involved one person out of thousands from here who are serving in Afghanistan.
The Obama administration said Monday that the tragedy won’t speed up its timetable for pulling U.S. forces out of Afghanistan over the next two years. But many Afghan citizens, U.S. lawmakers and more than half of the American public wanted the troops pulled out immediately even before Sunday’s rampage. But given the weak performance of Afghan security forces, that almost surely would lead to a resurgence of the Taliban.
President Barack Obama called the massacre “heartbreaking.” It is certainly that, but it should not, in itself, drive U.S. foreign policy. It’s hard to see, however, how it will not at least factor into it, especially in a presidential election year.