Soldiers involved in Afghanistan withdrawal reveal mental health scars

Western military personnel who assisted with the Afghanistan withdrawal have suffered from mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and “moral injury.”

In a documentary, titled Evacuation, by the Channel 4 in Britain, soldiers who took part in the chaotic withdrawal share their traumatic memories and their impacts on their lives.

The tumultuous scenes of people amassed at the Kabul airport pleading to be evacuated, a deadly suicide bombing that followed during the last days of the evacuation, and footage of people running after C-17s triggered PTSD, anxiety, and moral dilemma among veterans who struggled to help.

“Moral injury can stem from missions where members of the armed forces feel a ‘personal dilemma’ due to the commands they have been given,” Professor Walter Busuttil, director of research at veterans mental health charity, said.

While the mental health expert noted that moral injury is not actually a mental illness, he said it “reflects the dilemma in relation to the challenge we have to go against our own moral code and moral ethics.”

A Royal Air Force Police squadron leader, Diana Bird, told the makers of the documentary that she was still “coming to terms with” her part in the evacuation process and said there were things she did that she “was not necessarily proud of.”

Another military soldier, Reverend Richard Meikle, admitted to The Independent that he felt “changed” by the experience of August 2021 in Kabul.

“I had to look at myself in the mirror. It took me a long time to realize that I had changed from this experience, and then go and try and get help and go through that process of actually facing up to that. And that’s quite hard,” he told The Independent.

The horrors of a suicide bombing at the Kabul airport in late August 2021, which claimed the lives of 170 civilians and 13 US military personnel, were particularly arduous.

Lance Corporal David Mitchell was quoted saying, “If we were going to do that (evacuate), we should have done it 20-odd years ago…. Let the Taliban take over and just have it, basically.”

Walter Busuttil stated that those suffering from their experience or who feel triggered by watching the scenes in Evacuation should seek mental health support.

During the two-week evacuation in August 2021, the US and its allies managed to evacuate over 120,000 people from Kabul airport to safety, but tens of thousands of others were left behind, including those who had assisted the US over the past two decades.