Association for Defending Victims of Terrorism – Christophe came close to death in Afghanistan, Raphael saw one body bag after another in the Sahel region of Africa, while Omar does not even want to talk about what he experienced on the battlefield.
Bit by bit, the trauma settled in, over the course of many years.
The French military recognises the problem of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for its troops, among the busiest and most exposed in the Western world in terms of active deployments in deadly environments.
But it is seeking to ease the trauma endured by thousands of them with new techniques also practised by Western allies including Canada and the United States.
Omar, 35, a former navy commando, has battled PTSD for a decade, causing his relationship to break up and repeated hospitalisation after deployment in Guiana in 2012 and then the experience in Afghanistan that he still refuses to discuss.
Youssef, 44, a former military intelligence agent, took part in numerous operations that left him sometimes violent, sometimes filled with fear.
“An unpleasant force surges up in you, your family abandons you, people don’t really understand,” he told AFP.
Some 2,800 French soldiers were found to be suffering from psychological injuries from 2010 to 2019, five times more than the number with physical injuries.
In the ground army alone, 70 percent of the 1,000 injured servicemen on long-term sick leave suffer from PTSD.
The problem has become all the more acute with France’s almost decade-long deployment in the Sahel region of Africa to fight jihadists, where 50 of its troops have been killed and some 5,000 French troops are operating.
For victims such as Omar and Youssef, who like other sources asked for their surnames not to be disclosed, conventional sports rehabilitation and therapy had little effect.
“We are aspiring to something other than therapy for those affected,” said doctor Xavier Desruelles, a medical adviser to the army chief of staff. “They must learn to get used to life again while they have a tendency to close in on themselves.”