Drones Affect Mental Health in Afghanistan

Aftermath of a US drone strike in Afghanistan Aftermath of a US drone strike in Afghanistan © Al Jazeera

9 November 2016
Drone attacks damage not only physical but also mental health of civilians in Afghanistan.

The collateral damage of drone attacks in Afghanistan is not measured only by the number of civilians injured and killed, but also major traumatic psychological effects on victims. Even if witnesses of an attack go uninjured themselves, the trauma of seeing people die before them is still very acute and may last for years to come.

By some estimates, 60 to 75 percent of the Afghan population suffer from psychological disorders, ranging in severity, from decades of conflict affecting the country. As these people have little access to treatment as in Afghanistan, beset with other pressing war-related problems, the population’s mental health is not considered among the most pertinent issues. There is only one mental health hospital, which is situated in Mazar-i-Sharif and treats everyone without discrimination--from Afghan civilians to Taliban fighters. Just a handful of other hospitals around the country also have a mental health clinics  and their resources are very limited (i.e. they have no MRI or CT scanners) although treatment is free. The victims of post-traumatic stress disorder, if they cannot get to a hospital, have no money to undergo private treatment in Afghanistan or abroad, nor do they have money even to buy necessary medicine.

Other issues affecting post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) victims are shame and social stigma associated with mental health problems in a conservative society. Mental health issues are especially problematic for females who, in case of contact with psychiatric services, may never find marriage partners. Because of stigmatization and lack of access to medical care,, many Afghanis bring suffering relatives to religious shrines where victims stay in cells, are chained and treated with specific methods far from any medical standard or recommendation.

Since 2009, more than 470 strikes have been conducted by the US. Advocates of drone strikes claim that drones are the safest form of modern warfare, since only 3% of civilian victims in Afghanistan are attributed to the actions of the coalition forces and only 1% - to the use of drones.


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