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US soldier suicides rising in Iraq: Pentagon

At least 21 United States troops have committed suicide in Iraq, a growing toll that represents one of every seven American "non-hostile" deaths since the war began last March, the Pentagon said.

"Fighting this kind of war is clearly going to be stressful for some people," Assistant Defence Secretary for Health Affairs William Winkenwerder told reporters.

He said the military was taking steps to prevent suicides, ascribed by one defence analyst to a perception among young soldiers that the US force in Iraq was spread thin and faced an endless task.

Winkenwerder said that of 21 confirmed suicides during the past year associated with the war in Iraq, 18 were in the Army and three others in the Navy and Marine Corps.

The suicide toll is probably higher than 21 because some "non-hostile" deaths are still being investigated, he added.

Ken Allard, a retired Army colonel who now works with the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, said: "What you're really talking about here more than anything else is the perception that the future just looks indefinite and there are not enough troops coming in.

"It can look awfully bleak for an awful long time."

A total of 496 US troops have been killed in Iraq since the war began last March, 343 of them in combat and 153 in non-hostile incidents ranging from accidents to suicide, according to the Pentagon.

The 21 suicides represent nearly 14 per cent of non-hostile deaths reported by the military, an increase over the proportion of 11 per cent as of three months ago when the suicide number totalled 13.

Dr Winkenwerder added that nearly 400 troops had been evacuated from Iraq for stress-related problems.

The US has about 123,000 troops in Iraq. The Pentagon plans to reduce that to about 110,000 by (the American) summer as it rotates those in the country home for rest.

Dr Winkenwerder said the military was concerned over the suicides and was moving to deal with combat stress and other emotional problems triggered by armed conflict.

-- Reuters


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