Thursday, March 30, 2006

On the front lines, patience wears thin

A story from the Christian Science Monitor about U.S. troops in Mosul underscores a few points I've been making in the last couple of weeks.

"Please don't take our weapon," the mother of four pleads in Arabic when US Army Staff Sgt. Josh Clevenger comes across an AK-47. "We need it to defend ourselves. It is not safe, anything can happen."

As he stands in the living room, Sergeant Clevenger has no intention of confiscating their rifle - nor any comprehension of the woman's plea. With his platoon's lone interpreter elsewhere, he is effectively rendered speechless.

"Your weapon is filled with blanks," Clevenger, from Muncie, Ind., says to the woman, his voice unwittingly rising as he tries to convey helpful information. "These aren't real bullets - they won't protect you."

For US soldiers who don't grasp the language or the culture here, a central part of their mission - generating goodwill and support - remains far more difficult than capturing insurgent leaders.

(snip)

While US soldiers are practiced in the art of firepower, the sort of counterinsurgency campaign under way at the moment has demanded a far more nuanced approach to battle. Defeating the insurgency is as much about reaching ordinary Iraqis as it is about capturing terrorists.

"The fight is really for the people and their mind-set," says Lt. Col. Richard Greene of Germantown, Md., the battalion's executive officer.

As I argued in my Reaction guest post, pacification is a totally different kind of battle than a straight up force-on-force war. And it reaches a point where our presence does more harm than good, as more people die, civilian patience wears thin, and language and cultural barriers remain.

The story also notes how unhappy many of the troops were to hear President Bush say they'd be there for at least another three years. It isn't yet dissuading them from re-enlisting, but as the headline says, patience is wearing thin.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Though I am not affiliated with any party, I have to say that I liked what Nancy Pelosi said last night on the Newshour. She is talking about 2006 being a "year of transition" in Iraq, which I think most of us would say needs to happen. She clarified Rep. Murtha's view on withdrawal, and it seems like a valid possibility. Withdraw into Kuwait and other places within the year, effectively saying to Iraq "You've got to do this on your own, but we'll be right next door in case anything serious happens."
Our troop presence is more of a hindrance than a help right now, and the troops don't deserve to be stuck in limbo as targets. It's time for something different, and we need Congress to actually show some oversight, demand accountability, and initiate that transition. Hence, one branch of Congress needs to be in the Democrats' hands (I'd prefer the House since it is more right-wing at the moment).
What's your take on this?
- Caracarn

3/31/2006 11:34 AM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

I think this year might be early, but the concept is reasonable.

What we need from Bush is a timetable for when the training of the Iraqi army will be complete, as well as what he plans to do about the large sectarian factions within it. We appear to be inadvertently training death squads and arming militias. Bush needs to outline how he will address that.

And if there's no will from the Iraqis to fix the problem, at some point we need to be willing to say "well, we've done our part. Now it's up to you. If you don't want to get your house in order, that's your problem."

I'm rather disgusted by Bush's refusal to fix a timetable for things that can take a timetable, such as "training will be completed in 2007." Instead he punted the whole thing to the next administration, which I'm sure will be really pleased about it.

I'm not a big fan of Pelosi; I think she and Reid are not very effective party leaders. But I agree the Dems need to regain control of at least one of the House, Senate and presidency. The House might be more doable because all the seats are up for election (I haven't looked at the "contested" seat breakdown to see which districts are actually competitive), but the Senate would be a more powerful position.

3/31/2006 10:29 PM  

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