By PAULINE JELINEK
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — U.S. soldiers had higher morale and suffered fewer mental health problems in Afghanistan last year as they handed off more duties to Afghans and saw less combat themselves, according to a report released Monday.
The Army report was drawn from a battlefield survey and interviews in June and July. It was the ninth time since the practice started in 2003 in Iraq that the service had sent a team of mental health experts to the field of war to measure soldier mental health and assess available care.
The report says rates of soldiers with depression, anxiety and acute stress - as well as tendencies toward suicide - were lower than in the most recent previous surveys.
In a survey of nearly 900 soldiers, 20.2 percent said last year that their morale was high or very high, compared with 14.7 percent and 16.3 percent in 2012 and 2010, respectively. During those earlier survey years, there were more U.S. troops in Afghanistan - 100,000 at the height of the surge that started in 2010. Now, there are about 34,000 U.S. troops.
"The differences in individual morale in 2013 relative to 2010 and 2012 may reflect differences in combat experiences during those 2 years ... years with the highest combat experience levels" of the war, said the report by the office of the Army surgeon general and command surgeons at U.S. Central Command and in the Afghan warzone.