Rancor in the US Ranks: US Military Personnel Growing Critical of the War in Iraq
US military officials are becoming increasingly vocal in their criticism of the war in Iraq, telling Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that more troops are needed to prevail over the insurgents. Moreover, recruitment is down and more reservists and members of the National Guard are being sent to Baghdad.
US Marines carry an injured colleague from the fighting. Some soldiers are frustrated over a war that seems unwinnable.
Anderson spent seven months in Iraq last year as a part of a unit assigned the dangerous mission of guarding police stations in Baghdad. He was wounded by grenade shrapnel during an insurgent attack, was awarded the Purple Heart and allowed to spend Christmas at home in the United States. But instead of returning to duty, Anderson fled to Toronto.
Now he's a deserter and a warrant has been issued for his arrest. If apprehended, he faces several years in a US military prison. In justifying his desertion, Anderson says: "I can't go back to this war. I don't want to kill innocent people." He talks about the constant pressure soldiers face to make decisions in the daily grind of war. Once, when a car came too close to their Baghdad checkpoint, his commanding officer ordered him to shoot, even though Anderson could only make out a man and children in the vehicle. The soldier refused. "Next time you shoot," his commanding officer barked.
On another occasion, the safety on his automatic weapon was all that prevented Anderson from losing control. "I was holding a heavily injured comrade in my arms, there was blood all over the place, and Iraqis were cheering all around us," he recalls. "I was so furious that all I wanted to do was kill someone, anyone."
Anderson has now applied for political asylum in Canada. His attorney, Jeffry House, was once one of the 50,000 draft dodgers who fled to Canada to avoid serving in the Vietnam War. Deserters who are now fleeing to Canada to avoid the Iraq war have reawakened memories of an exodus that took place more than thirty years ago. House says: "Every day I get calls from at least two soldiers looking for a way out."
Revolt no longer Rare
US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld paid a surprise Christmas visit to troops in Mosul, scene of the deadliest attack on Americans since the war to oust Saddam Hussein began.
A revolt seems to be taking place within the ranks. Even though daily bomb attacks in Iraq and the latest death toll of 1,361 US soldiers have yet to trigger any significant reversal in US public opinion, and even though President Bush reiterated last week that the world is a safer place without Saddam Hussein, Bush's soldiers and officers seem increasingly convinced that the opposite is true. Almost without warning, America's armed forces, superior to any of the world's other militaries but faced with severe personnel shortages, are suddenly encountering almost insurmountable obstacles -- politically, strategically and financially.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld particularly faces growing criticism. In light of the disastrous situation on the ground in Iraq, even fellow Republicans are quietly demanding his removal and calling for a change in strategy. Rumsfeld bears the brunt of the blame for the precarious situation in which the US military now finds itself. The Iraq war has cost US taxpayers more than $150 billion to date, with the Pentagon spending $4.5 billion a month on its campaign in Iraq.
And there appears to be no end in sight, at least for the time being. Rumsfeld, in an attempt to boost morale among his frustrated troops, has said that he expects the Americans to withdraw from Iraq within his second four-year term as Secretary of Defense. However, only the most optimistic of the president's closest advisors believe that the situation in Iraq will improve in the wake of the January 30 elections.
Retired general D. Brent Scowcraft, national security advisor under the first President Bush, sees the election as providing nothing but "substantial potential for expanding the conflict." Last week, Lieutenant General Thomas Metz, commander of US ground forces in Iraq, openly admitted that regular elections are no longer a likely scenario in four of Iraq's 18 provinces. Because a quarter of the Iraqi population lives in these provinces, the question arises as to how meaningful this election, now called into jeopardy by increasingly violent attacks, can be.
Even though the 125,000-strong Iraq security forces are not even remotely capable of keeping the peace in their own country, politicians in Washington have already begun debating the possibility of a withdrawal of US forces. During Congress' Christmas recess, many lawmakers were forced to respond to questions from their constituents who wanted at least some indication of whether there is an end in sight to the US' bloody adventure in Iraq. Last week, outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell confessed that he hopes the withdrawal will get underway this year.
Retired four-star general Gary Luck has been sent to Iraq to determine how and how quickly the United States can withdraw from the Iraqi conflict without losing face. Within a few weeks, he is expected to provide Rumsfeld with an unfiltered assessment of the current situation and of the overall US Iraq strategy. According to retired general Sir Michael Rose, the well-respected former commander of Britain's contingent of UN peacekeepers in Bosnia, "the Americans' current strategy clearly isn't working."
Recruitment Getting Tougher
The Pentagon's original plans called for the withdrawal of US forces by September 2003. After that, a small protective force was to remain behind to guaranty security in postwar Iraq. Until now, however, only US allies have withdrawn their troops, including Ukraine, which announced its plans to withdraw just last week.
The increasingly heated debate in the United States over withdrawal from Iraq is being fueled by the fact that US forces stationed in and around Baghdad have long since ceased to consist entirely of professional military personnel. 40 percent of the 150,000 US troops in Iraq are army reservists or members of the National Guard. These troops, whose service normally consists of occasional weekend drills and yearly exercises, are people who have long since turned to other more or less successful careers. Now, they have been forced to temporarily abandon those careers to serve in Iraq, an obligation hardly any of these part-time soldiers had expected.
As a result, both the Army Reserves and National Guard are having trouble recruiting new members. "It's the mothers who are warning their kids about going to war," complains Sergeant Kevin Hudgins, a Tennessee recruiter. "In the past, the kids saw it as an easy way to pay for college," says Curtis Mills, a veteran who was severely wounded in Iraq. The National Guard is currently 30 percent shy of its recruitment goals. To make up for the difference, it is introducing an incentive system under which new recruits will receive up to $10,000 to join the National Guard.
Indignation is growing, especially among reservists once derided as weekend warriors. Although national guardsmen and reservists are generally assigned to support positions, their jobs as mechanics, drivers and cooks are also dangerous, as demonstrated by last month's suicide attack on a military mess hall near the Iraqi city of Mosul.
National Guard commander Steven Blum has asked the Pentagon for $20 billion, with the bulk of the requested funds earmarked for re-outfitting his troops, who were previously treated as second-class soldiers when it came to equipment. "I would have felt safer in a Volvo than in our Humvee," complains Richard Murphy, who was compelled to serve for 15 months in Iraq. In Alabama, veterans and schoolchildren even forged home-made armor to protect jeeps when their local National Guard troop was given its marching orders.
The regular armed forces will also find their patriotism severely tested in coming months as the Pentagon uses every trick it knows to extend tours of duty by up to one year. A new rule, for example, prohibits soldiers from leaving the service if their unit is scheduled to be deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq within three months' time.
How Can Security Be Improved?
Medics tend to wounded members of the Iraqi National Guard after an attack on Mosul on Jan. 10.
Models that have long since been discarded as failures are hectically being revived. For example, US military advisors are to be embedded as supervisors and support personnel within units of the new Iraqi army, who have the dubious but well-deserved reputation of fleeing the minute they come under fire.
Precisely the same recipe was incapable of stopping the Vietnam debacle 40 years ago. Military officials are also talking about forming death squads, whose job would be to track down and eliminate the insurgents within the territory they control or to which they normally withdraw. This would include foreign territory beyond the borders of Iraq. It's a strategy that was largely discredited during civil wars in Latin American in the 1970s.
These experiences have led military personnel in particular to call for a rethinking of Washington's strategy. The Pentagon's civilian leadership has not been faced with so much criticism from within its own ranks since the Vietnam War. Retired general D. Barry McCaffrey is even concerned that "the army will lose its base in the next 24 months." General Peter Schoomaker, the current Chief of Staff of the US Army, has already warned Congress against drastic consequences, saying that "it may be necessary to augment the regular armed forces," something that Rumsfeld wants to avoid at all costs, mainly for budgetary reasons.
To maintain a security force of 150,000 troops in Iraq in the longer term, the United States will in fact need three times as many soldiers. According to military planners, a third of these troops would be preparing for deployment, a third would actually be deployed, and a third would be involved in post-deployment work or on vacation.
This approach would thus require 450,000 troops to be available for Iraq at all times. However, the entire US armed forces, which would provide the lion's share of this military force, currently comprises only 500,000 troops. It's mainly because of these anticipated personnel needs that US military commanders are opposed to Rumsfeld's pet project -- converting the US armed forces into a relatively small but highly mobile high-tech commando force designed for lightning missions throughout the world. Military commanders argue that although this concept may have ensured the US a rapid initial victory over Iraq, it cannot guarantee peace in Iraq.
But it is precisely the military's desire for more troops that could unleash a public debate over the reintroduction of compulsory military service -- a discussion that no Washington politician of any stripe truly wants to tackle. The threat of a general draft could trigger a massive exodus to Canada which, until now, has only been an option occasionally resorted to by American opponents of the war. But even the few deserters that have already fled have put the Canadian government into an embarrassing bind.
Until now, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin has responded evasively to asylum requests filed by US soldiers. "We are a nation of immigrants and I have no intention of discriminating against anyone," he explained. But even though the Iraq war is as unpopular in Canada as US President George W. Bush himself, Martin knows full well that Washington would view Canada's granting asylum to GIs from south of the border as an open insult.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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