22 November 2005

Dueling views on Iraq

When people ask me about Iraq, I make sure to list the good with the bad. I tell them about the inspiring feeling of having seen people striving to have their voices heard, I talk about the loss and absolute emptiness that comes over you when you lose a friend in combat. I talk about the thanks the Iraqi people give American forces and I talk about the people that just want us to leave. The point is I try to paint a fair and balanced picture. In most of the reporting about this war, there seem to be two competing schools of thought. The Pro-Victory side tells about all the good going on in Iraq while acknowledging the mistakes that have been made as well as mourning the losses we and the Iraqi people have suffered. The Anti-War wing seems to be in love with the idea that nothing is going right, that Iraq is a quagmire that is destroying our military and that we are losing badly.

So with that in mind I came across the following two letters, both from Ramadi in Al Anbar province. One is from the Washington Times and it is an account of a father explaining what his son went through in Ramadi as a Marine. The father recounts through the son's words how our weapons are faring over there, how our tactics are working and what the enemy is doing to counter it. He also describes who the Marines believe they are fighting and the success they think they are having. He also highlights what isn't working for our forces and does so in an honest way. Here are a few of the quotes both good and bad:

The M-16 rifle: Thumbs down. Chronic jamming problems with the sand over there, which is like talcum powder. The sand is everywhere. You feel filthy two minutes after a shower. The M-4 carbine version is more popular because it's lighter and shorter, but it also has jamming problems. Marines like the ability to mount the various optical gunsights and weapons lights on the picatinny rails, but the weapon itself is not great in a desert environment. They all hate the 5.56mm (.223) round. Poor penetration on the cinderblock structure common over there and even torso hits cannot be reliably counted on to put the enemy down

The M2 .50 cal heavy machine gun: Thumbs way, way up. "Ma deuce" is still worth her considerable weight in gold. The ultimate fight-stopper, puts their d**** in the dirt every time. The most coveted weapon in-theater

The M243 SAW (squad assault weapon) .223 cal: Big thumbs down. Drum-fed light machine gun. Universally considered a piece of s***. Chronic jamming problems, most of which require partial disassembly. That's fun in the middle of a firefight

The new body armor: Thumbs up. Relatively light at approximately six pounds and can reliably be expected to soak up small shrapnel and even stop an AK-47 round. The bad news: Hot as s*** to wear, almost unbearable in the summer heat, which averages over 120 degrees. Also, the enemy now goes for head shots whenever possible. All the bull**** about the "old" body armor making our guys vulnerable to improvised-explosive devices was a non-starter. The IED explosions are enormous and body armor doesn't make any difference at all in most cases



Next it is discussed who we are fighting, how the insurgents fight, and how we are doing, again a few quotes:

Who are the bad guys? Most of the carnage is caused by the Zarqawi al Qaeda group. They operate mostly in Anbar province -- Fallujah and Ramadi. These are mostly "foreigners," that is, non-Iraqi Sunni Arab jihadists from all over the Muslim world and Europe. Most enter Iraq through Syria -- with, of course, the knowledge and complicity of the Syrian government -- and then travel down the "rat line" which is the trail of towns along the Euphrates River that we've been hitting hard for the last few months. Some are virtually untrained young jihadists who end up as suicide bombers or are used in "sacrifice squads."

The insurgent tactic most frustrating is their use of civilian non-combatants as cover. They know we do all we can to avoid civilian casualties, so therefore schools, hospitals and especially mosques are locations where they meet, stage for attacks, cache weapons and ammo and flee to when engaged. They have absolutely no regard whatsoever for civilian casualties. They will terrorize locals and murder without hesitation anyone believed to be sympathetic to the Americans or the new Iraqi government. Kidnapping of family members, especially children, is common to influence people they are trying to influence but cannot otherwise reach, such as local government officials, clerics or tribal leaders, etc.

According to [name redacted], morale among our guys is very high. They not only believe they are winning, but that they are winning decisively. They are stunned and dismayed by what they see in the American press, whom they almost universally view as against them. The embedded reporters are despised and distrusted. They are inflicting casualties at a rate of 20-1 and then see s*** like "Are we losing in Iraq?" on television and the print media.

For the most part, they are satisfied with their equipment, food and leadership. Bottom line, though, and they all say this: There are not enough guys there to drive the final stake through the heart of the insurgency, primarily because there aren't enough troops in-theater to shut down the borders with Iran and Syria.


All in all pretty fair it contrasts the highs with the lows and paints an honest picture of a military engaged in a death struggle against evil in the sands of Mesopotamia.

Now contrast that with Paul Rieckhoff's latest "piece of work". I don't care what people think, I don't much care for Mr. Rieckhoff, I know who he is and the organization he helped found, but I can't excuse him for the company he keeps. I'm a veteran as well and would never ideologically find myself on the same side of an issue as some of Mr. Rieckhoff's associates. In that regard he reminds me very much of Cindy Sheehan and both Mr. Rieckhoff and Ms. Sheehan seem to have no problem being tied to groups that supportive of Iraqi insurgents attacking American troops. Mr. Rieckhoff has done good in the world and for that I am supportive and I honor his service. I take exception to the company he keeps and the doom and gloom message he seems hellbent on portraying in Iraq. So the letter he received was also from an officer friend in Ramadi. It is your basic wild eyed rant from a very stressed soldier or marine, it is also going to be cannon fodder for the Left to use. I have a few problems with the writer of this letter for a few reasons, you see I was in Ramadi for several months in 2004 from the time of the execution style killing of the 4 Blackwater contractors in Fallujah through the battle for Ramadi and into the summer of 2004 when the insurgency gave us a good fight. I know very well how the living conditions are at FOB Blue Diamond or FOB Junction City and they are not as bad as the letter writer states. My first problem with the letter is this

We *can* make a difference here, and I believe in the mission as it looks on paper. But your president and his brain-dead colleagues aren't even trying to give us what we need to do it

It starts off well, but devolves into a typical Bush rant and I find the use of the term "your president" a strange one to use as Paul Rieckhoff doesn't seem like a Bush fan. The letter writer continues to complain and has this to say:

Speaking of contracts, KBR is a joke. I can't even enumerate the problems with their service, but I guarantee they do not receive less money based on how many of the showers don't work, or how many of us won't eat in the chow hall often because we get sick every time we do.

I would never in a million years work for KBR, but this is just sour grapes. I've eaten at that chow hall for months and the food isn't making you sick. Maybe washing your hands would help with that. The food isn't exactly 5 star cuisine but it is hot, filling and nutritious. You can eat as much as you like 3-4 meals a day, they serve meat, vegetables, fruit, bottled water, salad, ICE CREAM, Sodas, Near Beer as well as other things. You can get a submarine sandwich, a baked potato and even pizza on most occasions. So again I'm throwing down the bull**** card. I have walked in this persons shoes to a degree and I'm not seeing what he is seeing. From there we go full well into Bush is screwing us mode.

There is so much. I could go on forever. the worst thing, which we have discussed, is that they are playing these bullshit numbers games to fool America about troop strength. If they stopped paying KBR employees $100,000 to do the job of a $28,000 soldier, maybe they'd have enough money to send us enough soldiers to do the job. As it stands we have no offensive capability in the most dangerous city on earth

What exactly are "these bullshit numbers game"? I know the troop strength in al Anbar and Ramadi, what is the author trying to say that we do not have a Brigade of Army troops specifically for Ramadi? A brigade is usually what's assigned to a Metro area Ramadi's size. We have 1 Brigade in Kirkuk, a city of similar size, we have 1 Brigade of troops in Mosul, a Stryker Brigade from Alaska and until recently Mosul was just as dangerous if not more so than Ramadi is. Why the need to rag on KBR again? It's a well documented Leftwing moonbat meme that KBR is the source of evil in Iraq, why would an officer make this charge while he is ranting about troop strengths, there really is no comparison between the two. Finally we get to the part that is most confusing to me;

Where are the AC-130s? The apaches? They have them in FAR less active AOs (areas of operations). All we ever get is a single Huey and Cobra team, both of which are older than I am. it's such a joke. They're not even trying. At all. They have apaches in Tikrit but Hueys in Ramadi.

I debated how to answer this one for a while and this is what I decided upon. First of all, Apaches are an Army platform, Al Anbar is a Marine AO. The Army Brigade assigned to Al Anbar is task organized to the Marine Corps which means you get Marine Corps air power. Guess what kind of choppers the Marine Corps uses? Anyone........... Anyone...............Bueller? That's right the Marines use Cobra's and Huey's, the Marine Corps does not have Apache's, not a single one. Secondly, the Marine Corps would be loath to ask for Army Apache helicopters to move through their AO in large numbers. As for the AC-130's there are a limited amount of them in theater, and I'm sure the chain of command doesn't want AC-130's buzzing Ramadi all day long to root out some insurgents. People get kind of pissy when you use a 105mm Howitzer to ring the doorbell, and does the author want us to inflict more civilian casualties if we don't have to? I am a bit puzzled that an officer (if he's Army) doesn't know the equipment breakdown of the force he is working with. Give me a break, even privates would know what kind of equipment their unit has. If he is a Marine officer and he's asking where the Apache's are, I think he might be a little green around the gills if you get my meaning. He concluded with a little nugget of his personal wisdom;

I wish every American could see this for him/herself. Registering your frustration at the ballot box isn't nearly enough. There should be jail terms for this.

First things first, I don't think a military officer should be envisioning jail terms for his commander in chief or his chain of command. If he is serious he can resign his commission and face the music. Dissenting is fine to a point, but not in the military and especially not in an officer, supposedly a leader of men in combat. If he is honest and true, he should resign his commission and face whatever punishment that would entail. Don't send anonymous letters to a known anti- war activist and have it be used for grist by the UMCCODF (United Moonbat Collective Commune of Dangerous Fool). Finally I want to express one point; I too wish every American could see what we are doing in Iraq. They would see thousands of the sons and daughters of America helping those who can't help themselves, sacrificing blood for others they do not know. The American people would see the inherent sense of justice that Americans have. Our men and women want nothing more than to kill the tyrants and terrorists and go home. The people of this country would see true nobility in action, thought and deed in the daily struggles of our armed forces. They would see young Americans clawing and scraping and bleeding and dying to give freedom to people of another land and a different faith. Our men and women in uniform, heroes, every last one of them deserve the nation to see them
at their noblest in the midst of this struggle. They are our best and we owe them everything.

Linked over at Mudville Gazette. As always Greyhawk and Mrs. G. thanks for the space to share our thoughts.

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