War News for Tuesday, December 7, 2004
Good news – no bring ‘em on entries today. I was unable to locate any reports of combat that I could be sure had not been covered in previous days’ posts. I wish this happened more often.
On the other hand, last week was one of the worst the Iraqi people and the US forces had to deal with since the war began. Here’s a summary of the devastation.
: The Improvised Explosive Device, or makeshift roadside bomb, is probably the biggest single killer of U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
Though far from new in concept nor even as a piece of military jargon, the IED has taken on new significance.
If anything might sap the public's will to keep U.S. troops in Iraq, it could be these primitive contraptions, which kill or wound dozens each week -- relative pinpricks but which ramp up the cost of keeping a huge, high-tech army supplied and mobile.
Roadside IEDs may account for a third of the U.S. casualties in Iraq, U.S. officers in Baghdad estimate. No official figures are available. There are other threats from car bombs -- VBIEDs, as in Vehicle-Borne -- and SVBIEDs, for suicide car bombers.
Nearly 1,000 soldiers have been killed in action, and almost 10 times as many wounded, many maimed for life.
: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Monday that he expected American troops to withdraw from Iraq within four years but cautioned that any final decision would hinge on the progress that Iraq's civilian government and security forces made by then.
The Defense Department said last week that it would increase the number of American troops in Iraq to 150,000 from 138,000 by early next month to help provide security for the Iraqi elections on Jan. 30 and to keep pressure on the insurgency. Pentagon officials said the increase would be temporary: through next March. But many American military officers and senior Iraqi ministry officials have forecast that the United States would have to maintain a sizable troop presence in Iraq for years to battle a resilient and deadly insurgency and to help prevent the country from spiraling deeper into chaos.
: General John Abizaid, head of the American Central Command for the Middle East, said the U.S. is forced to increase troop strength in Iraq because that country's police and army won't be able to ensure security for the national election scheduled for Jan. 30.
``The Iraqi security forces aren't as mature as they need to be,'' Abizaid said in an interview yesterday at his office in Doha, Qatar.
Abizaid's assessment of Iraqi troops' performance came after two days of meetings with U.S. commanders in Iraq. The Pentagon said last week it would increase U.S. forces in Iraq to 150,000 from the current level of 138,000 to prepare for the election to replace the interim government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. The increase will take U.S. troop levels to the highest level since the invasion.
``A while back, somebody asked me, `Do you think you'll need more forces for the election,' and I said we probably would but they would be Iraqis and not necessarily Americans,'' Abizaid, 53, said in the interview. ``Well, obviously it is going to require more Americans.''
: A few weeks ago a group of Saudi religious scholars issued a “fatwa” concerning the matter of armed resistance to the occupation of Iraq by US, excuse me, I mean coalition forces.
A fatwa is quite simply a juridical opinion. This opinion naturally is of greater or lesser importance depending on who issues the fatwa.
For example, a legal opinion issued by a group of US lawyers will have less weight and significance than an opinion given by the US Supreme Court.
Similarly a fatwa’s weight and significance is according to who issues the fatwa.
In this particular instance, the 26 scholars do not represent official fatwa-issuing organizations nor do they represent official Saudi policy. They do, however, represent a significant body of opinion in the Muslim world on the proper manner for dealing with the foreign occupiers of Iraq.
To claim that the publication of this fatwa will encourage hundreds of young Saudi men to volunteer to fight US soldiers in Iraq is nonsense.
To be perfectly frank, they don’t need this fatwa to encourage them to go; all they need is the US’ own behavior in Iraq and other Muslim countries.
: The U.S. military said Monday it will not court-martial any of the 23 Army reservists who refused a mission transporting fuel along a dangerous road in Iraq, instead planning less severe punishments such as extra duties or reduction in rank.
The reservists from the 343rd Quartermaster Company are being disciplined for failing to follow orders under Article 15, which means no court proceedings will be held and the identities of the soldiers involved will not be released, Lt. Col. Steve Boylan said.
The soldiers failed to report on Oct. 13 for a mission to transport supplies from Tallil air base near Nasiriyah to Taji north of Baghdad. They said they balked because the vehicles were in poor condition and did not have armor. They also said complaints to their commander went unheeded.
"They felt they didn't have the proper equipment to do the mission they were ordered to do and are being disciplined for failing to follow orders," Boylan said.
: In a secret deployment during the past few weeks, Fort Carson’s 10th Special Forces group has left the post for Iraq, the Army confirmed Monday.
Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, N.C., won’t say how many soldiers from the 10th Group deployed, but sources have told The Gazette that almost all 1,000 soldiers from the unit are gone.
Other secrets include where in Iraq the unit landed and how long the soldiers will be gone.
the launch of the "war on terror," an unnamed Pentagon war planner seemed to warn journalists everywhere when he told Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz: "This is the most information-intensive war you can imagine... We're going to lie about things."
In February 2002, the New York Times reported that the Pentagon's Office of Strategic Influence (OSI) was "developing plans to provide news items, possibly even false ones, to foreign media organizations" in an effort "to influence public sentiment and policy makers in both friendly and unfriendly countries."
The story got widespread attention, and the Pentagon announced that the office would be eliminated. But considerably less media attention was paid when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld later said that, while the OSI had been closed, its mission would be taken up by other agencies.
As Rumsfeld put it, "I went down that next day and said 'Fine, if you want to savage this thing, fine-- I'll give you the corpse. There's the name. You can have the name, but I'm gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to be done and I have.'"
I’m normally fairly charitable toward the mainstream American media in the sense that I tend to blame their many deficiencies on laziness, cowardice, greed, and incompetence rather than outright evil (excepting Fox, Sinclair, and Clear Channel, who are outright evil). But occasionally something comes along that makes me question this assumption, like the following three stories found in the big three papers, the NY Times, the Washington Post, and the LA Times, all on the same day.
Read these articles and keep the context in mind. Fallujah has just been flattened. Its 300,000 residents were slaughtered, maimed, psychologically devastated, and displaced with inadequate food, shelter, and clothing, in the name of eliminating a few thousand guerillas, many of whom escaped, as our own military admits. November was the worst month ever for American casualties. This past weekend saw eleven US soldiers and scores of Iraqis die, well over a hundred people wounded, attacks from Mosul to the Green Zone, Sunnis warning of imminent civil war, and no sign of any let up soon. And these articles are what our press gives us.
Read ‘em and weep.
: A series of large military offensives over the past few months culminating in the battle for Fallujah has given U.S. military commanders here a sense of having gained ground against Iraq's fierce insurgency, but they predict no easy victory in pressing the attack and remain particularly concerned about a rising campaign of intimidation.
Polling data collected by the U.S. military show that public confidence remains fragile, and many Iraqis have yet to commit decisively to legitimate government, according to officers familiar with the surveys.
Nonetheless, senior U.S. commanders here remain convinced that their military, political and economic strategies for Iraq are still sound, according to interviews with more than a dozen generals in recent days.
The muscular approach
: Just as the assault on Falluja last month signaled a turn to a more aggressive posture by the United States command, so too has the evolution of American tactics here. Under the 2/24 marines, the policy since September has been to go after the insurgents. New forward bases have been opened in Yusufiya and Latifiya. The marines have conducted regular foot patrols through the towns. Raids on insurgent hide-outs and weapons caches have become routine.
The marines have fought pitched battles, including one on Nov. 12 at Mullah Fayyad, west of Yusufiya, that began with an insurgent ambush and developed into a fight that lasted more than four hours. Lt. Col. Mark A. Smith, the 2/24's commander, said the rebels were trying to open lines of retreat from Falluja.
"This is where the leadership of the insurgency have always lived, and now that they can't be in Falluja, they've got to come home," he said. "But our rule is, 'You ain't comin' home.' "
Colonel Smith, 40, an Indiana state trooper in civilian life, is the embodiment of the new, more aggressive approach - muscular, salty tongued and impatient. "We're going out where the bad guys live, and we're going to slay them in their ZIP code," he said.
"People around here are beginning to believe that the Americans are going to stay and go after the bad guys, and they're not going to leave until the job's been done," he added. "As that sinks in, opinion is swinging to our side."
Son of shock and awe
: Soon, the Marines would be marching forward in Great War-style formations on a chilly, rainy evening imbued with a sense of the apocalyptic.
But for now, the troops crouched in foxholes gouged from the desert north of Fallouja, scanning the fireworks.
An immense barrage of air and artillery strikes rained down on the rebel-held city, and the Marines roared with every blast. Force Recon was at work.
On the evening of Nov. 8, the massive, pre-invasion bombardment of Fallouja began."We used F/A-18s, we used Harriers," said a pilot who served as forward controller. "When we needed it, we'd call in a strafing run," added the lanky, 37-year-old Marine, an officer who asked to be identified only as Frisky.
Special contest! Great prize! A romantic evening repairing .50 cal bullets with Frisky to the first reader to find a single clue in the above story that anyone lived in Fallujah who was not a gun-toting, America-hating terrorist.
: For the Guard, service in Iraq has not improved since his July letter. The danger appears to be greater as insurgents continue roadside bombing and sniping. Tours of duty have been extended time and again; pressure tactics have been used to force re-enlistments; troops have not been allowed to leave when their enlistments were up.
All the while, North Dakota's political and military leaders have been silent about these abuses. Maybe they think that it would be unpatriotic to call abuse for what it is. Maybe they don't want to add to the president's embarrassment by publicly protesting. Maybe they don't regard the situation as abuse. Maybe they believe national defense is not their business. Regardless of their reasons for silence, strong public protest by the governor and the adjutant general would lift the morale of those Guard men and women who feel that they are being unfairly treated.
As for my July correspondent, he will not be taking advantage of that college education he was promised. Spc. Cody Wentz of Williston, N.D., was killed in Iraq a few weeks ago. This column is being written to honor his request that we not forget the Guard and to help people understand the reality of the situation.
Local story: New Hampshire
Marine killed in Baghdad.
Local story: Yakima, WA
, soldier killed in Al Habbaniyah.
Local story: Maple Shade, PA
, soldier killed in Kirkuk.
Local story: New Jersey
soldier killed in Ramadi.
Local story: Bronx-born
soldier killed in Taji.