Jamail: A Broken, De-Humanized Military in Iraq
A Broken, De-Humanized Military in Iraq
By Dahr Jamail
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Tuesday 26 September 2006
While the deranged chicken-hawks who "lead" the US continue their efforts to wage another unprovoked war of aggression, this time against Iran, what's left of their already overstretched military continues to be bled in Iraq.
When the situation is so critical that even the corporate media is forced to report on it, you know it's bad. Last week on the NBC Nightly News, General Barry McCaffrey, now retired, said of the current state of the US military, "I think, arguably, it's the worst readiness condition the US Army has faced since the end of Vietnam." This isn't a big surprise when we consider the facts that many soldiers are already into their third combat tour, frequent deployments have cut training time at home in half, and two thirds of all Army combat units are rated not ready for combat.
The fact that 60% of National Guard soldiers have already reached their limit for overseas combat is most likely not going to slow down the Cheney administration's lust for more war. Most likely, they'll just have Rummy change the Pentagon's policy that currently limits Guard combat tours to two out of every five years.
This change was apparently already expected by Lieutenant General Steven Blum, of the National Guard, who told NBC, "If you think the National Guard's busy today, I think we're going to look back and say 'these were the good old days' in about three years." A comment to which General McCaffrey responded: "More is being asked of them, particularly the National Guard and reserve components, than they signed up to do. And in the near-term, we think it's going to unravel."
That "near-term" seemed to be about 72 hours away from McCaffrey's comments. On Monday, the Army announced that because it is stretched so thin by the occupation of Iraq, it is once again extending the combat tours of thousands of soldiers beyond their promised 12-month tours. It's the second time since August (i.e., last month) that this has occurred. The 1st Brigade Armored Division, which is having its tour extended, just happens to be located in the province of Al-Anbar, which the military has long since lost control of. Between 3,500 and 4,000 soldiers are affected by this decision.
The move prompted defense analyst Loren Thompson to tell reporters: "The Army is coming to the end of its rope in Iraq. It simply does not have enough active-duty military personnel to sustain the current level of effort."
There are currently over 142,000 US soldiers in Iraq. Just last week General John Abizaid, the top US commander in the region, said the military is likely to maintain and possibly even increase its force level in Iraq through next spring.
What does this look like for US troops on the ground in Iraq? Here is an email I received just last week from a mother whose son is serving in the US military in Ramadi:
My son cannot bear what he is forced to do, and has probably through sheer terror, confusion, and split-second decisions, killed innocent civilians. He is well aware of this, and I have witnessed the consequences first hand. He probably carries innocent blood on his hands. The killing of innocent people is virtually unavoidable. He is in Al-Anbar region. You are the ONLY person in the media who has responded to my emails. The other emails I sent to news organizations questioning why so little news out of Al-Anbar were unanswered. I believe that it is because the US has lost that region, and is suppressing that news to the American public. My son called me last week from Ramadi and said the war is lost - they are just going thru the motions, again, forced to carry out orders and risk their lives for an unobtainable and unjust goal. I continue to read your web site, as well as others, while I pray for my son's safe homecoming in spring.
Her anguish, the description of her son's mental state, and her son's report of the conditions in Ramadi, tragic as they are, come as no surprise. At the time of this writing, over 2,703 US soldiers have been killed in Iraq, and over ten times that number wounded. This month, over 61 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq. With an average of over 2.5 killed daily this month, at the time of this writing it's already the third bloodiest month this year in Iraq for occupation forces.
Another report released last weekend from the Veterans Health Administration found that over one third of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans seeking medical treatment are reporting symptoms of stress or other metal disorders. This is a tenfold increase in the last 18 months alone. The dramatic jump in cases is attributed to the fact that more troops are facing multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This is of course complicated by the fact that veterans' groups claim that the VA is not able to meet the growing demand for services. Already, veterans have had to deal with long waits for doctor appointments (oftentimes over six months), staffing shortages, and lack of equipment at medical centers run by the VA.
The woman who sent me the email about her son gave me permission to publish another email that shows clearly how the over-stretch of the military in Iraq and multiple tours are affecting her son:
I have established contact with my son, thank God, and he writes to me daily about Iraqi atrocities, and how he wants to wax them all. His morale is low and he has a weak LT who is unable to keep up with the pace required. I would love to share these emails with you, but I am afraid. I'm afraid of the implications should this ever get out. I want to do nothing to endanger my communications with my son. My impression through my readings and contact with soldiers is that the Iraqis are generally good people. The American occupation seems to be only making things that much worse for the average Iraqi. My impression is that Iraq is a country with no hope. No matter what is done, they will never have a stable government, no matter what form it might take. From my son, I'm able to glean the complete CHAOS Ramadi is in. It is hopeless. As a mother, I want him to do whatever is necessary to come home, and will not sugar-coat my thoughts: that he should kill everything and come home. Naturally, not someone who is obviously an innocent civilian, but how do you tell? How do you know who is innocent and who is a threat? Therefore, he feels that daisy-cutting the town is the only option. Of course this will not happen, and he's blowing smoke. However, it is an indication of how bad things are there ... the struggle between the Marines and the insurgents is never ending. The type of bomb now employed by the insurgents (whoever they are) is frightening ... a metal plate on the ground: when the Marine steps on it, it connects the circuit and that boy is blown up. My son is running missions thru back alleys ... and is hauling a machine gun that is destroying his back. He is a slender young man, and the gear he is carrying is affecting his health. He can run for miles, but not with a hundred pounds on him. Already I hear such a hardness in his emails, such low morale, such hopelessness, and he has only just begun this deployment (hopefully his last ... his third).
America is a great nation, compassionate to many, and is my homeland. I am sickened at what is happening, and what my son is being made to do as a Marine. Ultimately we have morphed into an empire. It breaks my heart that my son may die on foreign soil fighting a useless war that will only lead to more death and destruction ...
The longer the occupation of Iraq continues, more death and destruction are two things all of us can count on. Along with a broken, bleeding military that is being stretched even further each day, and the anxious families of those serving, whose nerves and hearts are also being stretched further each day.
Dahr Jamail is an independent journalist
who has reported for the Guardian, the Independent, and the
Sunday Herald. He now writes regularly for Inter Press
Service and Truthout. He maintains a web site at dahrjamailiraq.com.