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In the search for an explanation of why a U.S. soldier left his base in Afghanistan at night and killed 16 civilians in their homes, some experts have raised the possibility that mental illness or a brain injury played a role in the massacre.
"We're going to look into all of that," General John Allen, who commands U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, told CNN on Monday, declining to comment further on the mental state of the soldier suspected in Sunday's attack. A U.S. official told Reuters that the staff sergeant had suffered a traumatic brain injury in a vehicle rollover in 2010 in Iraq, and was treated and returned to duty.
Experts caution against jumping to conclusions, but two facts are known. This was the sergeant's fourth deployment. And the risk of mental illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety-related disorders is generally higher during subsequent deployments than during a soldier's first.
"The more exposure there is to trauma the worse it's going to be," said Dr. David Reiss, a psychiatrist in private practice who has treated patients with PTSD. "Especially if someone is deployed repetitively, then the whole issue of expecting to go home, not going home, just amplifies it."