US soldiers who took part in the fight against ISIS are now struggling with their mental health.
The New York Times reported that some troops returned seeing ghosts and feeling "cursed."
The Times pointed to the soldiers' own intense artillery fire as a possible cause.
When the United States intervened in Iraq and Syria to destroy the Islamic State, it relied on local militias to do most of the actual on-the-ground fighting, largely sparing US soldiers from the worst of it.
But many of those troops have nonetheless come back with debilitating psychological issues, The New York Times reported Sunday, an apparent product of that US strategy.
At issue, it seems, is the sheer number of times US soldiers fired artillery rounds at Islamic State targets. Tens of thousands of explosive shells were fired during the course of the fighting, each soldier firing more rounds than at any point since the war in Vietnam, the Times noted.
"The cannon blasts were strong enough to hurl a 100-pound round 15 miles, and each unleashed a shock wave that shot through the crew members' bodies, vibrating bone, punching lungs and hearts, and whipping at cruise-missile speeds through the most delicate organ of all, the brain," the Times reported.
The constant exposure to the blasts appears to have contributed to more than half the Marines in one artillery unit being diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries. In interviews, veterans said those injuries have manifested themselves in frightening and bizarre ways.
One man came back seeing "the ghost of a dead girl" in his kitchen, an apparition he believed was an Islamic State hex. Others began hearing voices. Some reported becoming overcome with intense, sudden emotions. Indeed, many of those deployed in artillery units "came home feeling cursed," The Times reported.
Although the science is not settled, a former Army researcher, Gary Kamimori, suggested that repeated exposure to blasts could be the culprit, the shock waves causing cerebral scarring.
"Think of it like a rubber band," Kamimori told the newspaper. "Stretch a rubber band a hundred times, and it bounces back, but there are micro-tears forming. The hundred-and-first time, it breaks."
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