Monday, May 28, 2007

Arming Our Enemies

American soldiers in the field are losing faith in the Iraqi mission nearly as rapidly as the American public it would seem.

BAGHDAD: Staff Sergeant David Safstrom does not regret his previous tours in Iraq, not even a difficult second stint when two comrades were killed while trying to capture insurgents.

"In Mosul, in 2003, it felt like we were making the city a better place," he said. "There was no sectarian violence, Saddam was gone, we were tracking down the bad guys. It felt awesome."

But now on his third deployment in Iraq, he is no longer a believer in the mission. The pivotal moment came, he says, this past February when soldiers killed a man setting a roadside bomb. When they searched the bomber's body, they found identification showing him to be a sergeant in the Iraqi Army.

"I thought, 'What are we doing here? Why are we still here?' "We're helping guys that are trying to kill us. We help them in the day. They turn around at night and try to kill us." said Safstrom.

SSgt. Safstrom is not alone. His war-weary point of view is shared by the vast majority of the men in his unit.

"In 2003, 2004, 100 percent of the soldiers wanted to be here, to fight this war," said Sergeant First Class David Moore, a self-described "conservative Texas Republican" and platoon sergeant who strongly advocates an American withdrawal. "Now, 95 percent of my platoon agrees with me."

Many members of Delta Company can pinpoint the exact moment they lost faith.

On April 29, a Delta Company patrol was responding to a tip at the Sadr mosque, a short distance from its base. The soldiers saw men in the distance erecting burning barricades, and the streets emptied out quickly. Then a militia, believed to be the Mahdi army, began firing at them from rooftops and windows.

Sergeant Kevin O'Flarity, a squad leader, jumped into his Humvee to join his fellow soldiers, racing through abandoned Iraqi Army and police checkpoints to the battle site.

He and his squad maneuvered their Humvees through alleyways and side streets, firing back at an estimated 60 insurgents during a gunfight that raged for two and a half hours. A rocket-propelled grenade glanced off O'Flarity's Humvee, failing to penetrate.

When the battle was over, Delta Company learned that among the enemy dead were at least two Iraqi Army soldiers that American forces had helped train and arm.

Rogers admits that, "the 29th was a watershed moment in a negative sense, because the Iraqi Army would not fight with us," he said, adding that "some actually picked up weapons and fought against us." The battle changed the attitude among his soldiers toward the war, he said.

"Before that fight, there were a few true believers." Rogers said. "After the 29th, I don't think you'll find a true believer in this unit. "

Yes. The very Iraqis that American forces are arming and training are planting bombs and engaging in pitched gun battles with American forces - the same American forces who are arming and training them.

This decline in morale was first publicized last December in a Military Times poll. I wrote then that the poll was significant not just for the results, but for who provided the answers. Military Times (links to all four are in the sidebar) newspapers are read by mostly career military personnel. The results were released in December, but the actual polling took place approximately one year ago, and at that time, only about one-in-three active duty military personnel supported the president and his conduct of the war– again, we are talking about seasoned, professional Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines. Officers and career NCO’s in leadership positions.

Now, the GI’s in the field have lost faith in the mission, in no small part because no firm mission has ever been defined and they were lied to going in. And then there is the inconvenient fact that the Iraqis who were supposed to treat them as liberators are the same Iraqis who are planting IED’s and sniping from rooftops. And the casualties mount.

At home, and in the ranks, the chorus of “Get the fuck out. Now.” grows louder and stronger and more resolute. Now military voices are joining the choir in unprecedented numbers.

Will the right-wing now turn on them?

Remember that when the Vietnam vets returned, it was the rabid, snarling right that demeaned and degraded and spat on them, not the left. The only documented incidents show members of the VFW and American Legion spitting on their less successful Vietnam peers.

Will they now abandon these GI's too, and denigrate them and their service, because they were unable to achieve the impossible, and have the sense to know they are in a no-win situation?

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