Tuesday :: May 8, 2007

Placing Our Troops At Greater Risk - For What?

by Steve

"What do you want us to accomplish over here? We aren't hearing any end state. We aren't hearing it from the president, from the defense secretary. We're working hard and the politicians are arguing. They don't have bullets flying over their heads. They aren't on the front lines, and their buddies aren't dying."
--Sgt. 1st Class Michael Eaglin

General David Petraeus’s counterinsurgency strategy of placing troops in forward positions away from bases along with Iraqi forces has now had several months to work. Even though he continues to say he will need until September to see if it will work, and even though Congress now says September is the make-or-break month, the verdict seems to be coming in already. Our forces are already trying to gain more protection from increasing Iraqi attacks, and wondering why they are in Iraq and what the end game is.

Nearly three months after the U.S. military launched a new strategy to safeguard Baghdad's population by pushing American and Iraqi forces deeper into the city's neighborhoods, defending their small outposts is increasingly requiring heavy bulwarks reminiscent of the fortresslike bases that the U.S. troops left behind.
To guard against bombs, mortar fire and other threats, U.S. commanders are adding fortifications to the outposts, setting them farther back from traffic and arming them with antitank weapons capable of stopping suicide bombers driving armored vehicles. U.S. troops maintain the advantage of living in the neighborhoods they are asked to protect, but the need to safeguard themselves from attack means more walls between them and civilians.

Conditions for our troops in Sadr City, even after a recent sweep and series of arrests of Mahdi Army militiamen, appear miserable and life threatening every day. So why is Prime Minister al-Maliki unwilling or unable to get his Shiite brethren to reduce the violence against our forces?

For U.S. troops living at the small camps, the constant need for vigilance -- coupled with hardship conditions and the prospect of 15-month tours -- has in some cases taken a toll on morale. While some soldiers see advantages in living alongside Iraqi security forces inside the neighborhoods they patrol, others voice resentment over a mission they believe is ill defined.
At the outpost in Sadr City, a volatile predominantly Shiite Muslim district of east Baghdad with about 2 million residents, scores of Iraqi police officers and U.S. soldiers live in cramped quarters in a two-story building that serves as a joint security station. They eat mostly packaged food, rarely shower, and in off-duty hours do little but sleep. U.S. troops staff guard towers on the roof 24 hours a day and, uncertain of the loyalties of their Iraqi counterparts, also stand sentry at the American section inside.
But U.S. troops also face a constant, nerve-racking battle against insurgents attacking with mortars, gunfire and sometimes car bombs. Every day at different times, Knapp has to vacate U.S. personnel and vehicles from different parts of the security station to avoid incoming 60mm and 80mm mortar rounds. As Knapp and other soldiers put up barriers recently, five rocket-propelled grenades and several mortar shells were fired at Iraqi contractors lined up just outside with trucks and other equipment. Two truck drivers were reportedly kidnapped at gunpoint, and as a result, "a very large percentage of the contractors quit" and had to be replaced, Capt. Joshua Taylor said.

Keep in mind this is taking place inside Sadr City, so either the attacks are coming from Mahdi Army forces or from the Sunnis or Al Qaeda, which doesn’t appear likely within Sadr City.

So why isn’t the Bush Administration talking with Iran to see what it takes to enlist their help in reducing the level of violence in Shiite parts of Baghdad? We are already relying upon the Mahdi Army to provide security for their holy places in Baghdad, even as we know they get support from Iran. Yet we insist on encroaching into Sadr City and risking our troops every day, instead of seeking a responsibility sharing arrangement with the Shiites and the Sunni tribesmen to be responsible for their own security in well-defined areas, so we can focus on Al Qaeda.

And yet GOP senators continue with the "wait until September" drivel:

"There is a sense that by September, you've got to see real action on the part of Iraqis," said Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.). "I think everybody knows that, I really do."
"I think a lot of us feel that way," agreed Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

Tell me, Senators Coleman and Collins, how do you expect the Iraqis to take "real action" by September when they will be taking July and August off?

AP photo of our forces inside Sadr City today

Steve :: 7:30 AM :: Comments (22) :: Digg It!