Sat, Feb. 03, 2007
Soldiers in Iraq view troop surge as a lost cause
By Tom Lasseter
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Army 1st Lt. Antonio Hardy took a slow
look around the east Baghdad neighborhood that he and
his men were patrolling. He grimaced at the sound of
gunshots in the distance. A machine gunner on top of a
Humvee scanned the rooftops for snipers. Some of
Hardy's men wondered aloud if they'd get hit by a
roadside bomb on the way back to their base.
"To be honest, it's going to be like this for a long
time to come, no matter what we do," said Hardy, 25,
of Atlanta. "I think some people in America don't want
to know about all this violence, about all the
killings. The people back home are shielded from it;
they get it sugar-coated."
While senior military officials and the Bush
administration say the president's decision to send
more American troops to pacify Baghdad will succeed,
many of the soldiers who're already there say it's a
"What is victory supposed to look like? Every time we
turn around and go in a new area there's somebody new
waiting to kill us," said Sgt. 1st Class Herbert Gill,
29, of Pulaski, Tenn., as his Humvee rumbled down a
dark Baghdad highway one evening last week. "Sunnis
and Shiites have been fighting for thousands of years,
and we're not going to change that overnight."
"Once more raids start happening, they'll (insurgents)
melt away," said Gill, who serves with the 1st
Infantry Division in east Baghdad. "And then two or
three months later, when we leave and say it was a
success, they'll come back."
Soldiers interviewed across east Baghdad, home to more
than half the city's 8 million people, said the
violence is so out of control that while a surge of
21,500 more American troops may momentarily suppress
it, the notion that U.S. forces can bring lasting
security to Iraq is misguided.
Lt. Hardy and his men of the 2nd Brigade of the Army's
2nd Infantry Division, from Fort Carson, Colo., patrol
an area southeast of Sadr City, the stronghold of
radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
A map in Hardy's company headquarters charts at least
50 roadside bombs since late October, and the
lieutenant recently watched in horror as the blast
from one killed his Humvee's driver and wounded two
other soldiers in a spray of blood and shrapnel.
Soldiers such as Hardy must contend not only with an
escalating civil war between Iraq's Sunni and Shiite
Muslims, but also with insurgents on both sides who
target U.S. forces.
"We can go get into a firefight and empty out ammo,
but it doesn't accomplish much," said Pvt. 1st Class
Zach Clouser, 19, of York, Pa. "This isn't our war -
we're just in the middle."
Almost every foot soldier interviewed during a week of
patrols on the streets and alleys of east Baghdad said
that Bush's plan would halt the bloodshed only
temporarily. The soldiers cited a variety of reasons,
including incompetence or corruption among Iraqi
troops, the complexities of Iraq's sectarian violence
and the lack of Iraqi public support, a cornerstone of
"They can keep sending more and more troops over here,
but until the people here start working with us, it's
not going to change," said Sgt. Chance Oswalt, 22, of
Bush's initiative calls for American soldiers in
Baghdad to take positions in outposts throughout the
capital, paired up with Iraqi police and soldiers. Few
of the U.S. soldiers interviewed, however, said they
think Iraqi forces can operate effectively without
Their officers were more optimistic.
If there's enough progress during the next four to six
months, "we can look at doing provincial Iraqi
control, and we can move U.S. forces to the edge of
the city," said Lt. Col. Dean Dunham, the deputy
commander of the 2nd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade,
which oversees most of east Baghdad.
Maj. Christopher Wendland, a senior staff officer for
Dunham's brigade, said he thinks there's a good chance
that by late 2007 American troops will have handed
over most of Baghdad to Iraqi troops.
"I'm actually really positive," said Wendland, 35, of
Chicago. "We have an Iraqi army that's actually
capable of maintaining once we leave."
If the Iraqi army can control the violence, his
thinking goes, economic and political progress will
follow in the safest areas, accompanied by
infrastructure improvement, then spread outward.
In counterinsurgency circles, that notion is commonly
called the "inkblot" approach. It's been relatively
successful in some isolated parts of Iraq, such as Tal
Afar on the Syrian border, but in most areas it's
failed to halt the bloodshed for any length of time.
Wendland and Dunham said, however, that if the Iraqi
forces in Baghdad falter, much of the city could fall
to Sunni and Shiite insurgents.
"We have to have momentum . . . or else it could all
fall like a house of cards," Wendland said.
Leaning against a pile of sandbags last week, 1st Lt.
Tim Evers took a drag from his Marlboro cigarette. He
said that while sending more troops sounded good,
Sunni and Shiite fighters would only move out of
Baghdad, fight elsewhere and wait until they can
re-enter the capital.
Evers' men were part of the last U.S. effort to subdue
Baghdad, Operation Forward Together, which included
Iraqi and American soldiers. It lasted most of last
summer and ended in failure.
"When we first got here it was, `Let's put up schools,
let's work on a power plant' - but you can't do that
without security, and security here is crap," said
Evers, 26, of Stockton, Calif. "They keep trying
different crap and it doesn't work. . . . They're
talking about the inkblot method, and doing that you
secure a small area, but the rest is still bad."
America's three-and-a-half-year effort to quell Iraqi
unrest has been largely unsuccessful, according to
statistics compiled by The Brookings Institution,
which gets most of its data from the U.S. government.
In June 2003, a month after Bush declared the end of
major combat operations in Iraq, 18 U.S. troops were
killed by hostile fire. Last month, hostile fire
killed at least 80 American troops, according to Iraq
Coalition Casualty Count, a Web site that tracks U.S.
casualty numbers from military releases. On Jan. 20
alone, 25 U.S. soldiers were killed, almost one-third
more than died in all of June 2003.
There are troubling indications in the Brookings
statistics that adding more troops only to draw down
later to lower levels - as is the current plan - may
not bring peace.
The coming increase will bring the number of American
soldiers and Marines in Iraq to some 153,000. During
the country's national elections in December 2005,
there were 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Fifty-seven of
them were killed by hostile fire, and there were on
average 90 daily insurgent and militia attacks. In
December 2006, when the number of U.S. soldiers and
Marines in Iraq dropped to about 140,000, 95 Americans
were killed and there were on average 185 attacks a
The problem, many soldiers say, is that as long as the
majority of Iraqis oppose the presence of American
troops, a trend that's only accelerated since the 2003
invasion, no amount of bullets or bodies will solve
That's a bitter truth for Sgt. Chance Oswalt and many
others on the streets of Baghdad.
Oswalt somberly named two men in his company who
fought in Fallujah in November 2004, in the most
intense urban combat since Vietnam, only to be killed
in Baghdad late last year. One bled to death after he
was shot by a sniper; the other was killed by a
"All of our friends who have been killed by (roadside
bombs) and snipers, it's like there's no justice for
it - it's just another body bag filled," he said. "The
guys who died just trying to stay alive and get home,
they'll be forgotten. No one will remember their
Riding on a patrol last week, Spc. Elmer Beere looked
out of his Humvee window for any hint of wires leading
to a roadside bomb.
"It's kind of relentless and pointless," said Beere,
22, of State College, Pa. "It'll be the same thing
going on here, no matter what we do."