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Soldiers in Iraq view troop surge as a lost cause

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.realcities.com/mld/krwashington/16616389.htm Sat, Feb. 03, 2007 Soldiers in Iraq view troop surge as a lost cause By Tom Lasseter McClatchy
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 4, 2007

      Sat, Feb. 03, 2007
      Soldiers in Iraq view troop surge as a lost cause
      By Tom Lasseter
      McClatchy Newspapers

      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
      lost cause.

      "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
      counterinsurgency warfare.

      "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
      Tulsa, Okla.

      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
      American help.

      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
      the problem.

      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
      roadside bomb.

      "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."
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