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Sunday, November 19, 2006


Gen. Abizaid needs to get out more

A few days ago, Gen. John Abizaid had this to say when testifying before Congress:
"When I come to Washington, I feel despair. When I'm in Iraq with my commanders, when I talk to our soldiers, when I talk to the Iraqi leadership, they are not despairing."
It looks like Gen. Abizaid hasn't talked to Capt. Stephanie A. Bagley, profiled in today's New York Times:
Capt. Stephanie A. Bagley and the military police company she commands arrived in Iraq in December 2005 brimming with optimism about taking on one of the most urgent tasks in Iraq: building a new police force.

Now, as the 21st Military Police Company approaches the end of a deployment marked by small victories and enormous disappointments, Captain Bagley is focused on a more modest goal.

"I just want to get everyone home," she said. In the past several weeks, Captain Bagley, 30, barred her troops from foot patrols in the most violent neighborhoods and eliminated all nonessential travel. "I'm just not willing to lose another soldier," she said.

As the death toll among American troops has risen in Baghdad, and the security plan has faltered, Captain Bagley's soldiers say they have tried to resist the urge to question the larger American enterprise here, whether it was right or wrong to come to Iraq in the first place, whether and when American troops should leave. They are here to do a job, they say, and are duty-bound to complete it.

But Captain Bagley has asked herself those questions "all the time," she said. She ponders whether it has all been worth her soldier's leg or her soldier's life. She wonders what the American command will do to turn things around.

Her discouragement is plain, but she keeps her deepest thoughts private, in part because she wants to protect her soldiers from doubt at this most critical time in their lives. She knows that their job is difficult enough without the suggestion that their sacrifices may have been in vain. "You can't pass it along to your soldiers," she said. "You can't question it. It would lead to the destruction of the company. You got to keep it together."

The company has done everything it could to help rebuild Iraq, she said, but now they want to go home. "It's been a very frustrating year," she said. "We all want to get out of here."
Incidentally, I've frequently written about how one reason the Iraqi forces could never take the place of what the Americans are doing is because the U.S. is never going to give them tanks, helicopter gunships, and other heavy equipment. It turns out I wasn't thinking broadly enough. Here's a picture of the reality in Iraq from the same article:
The company’s challenges crystallized in a moment late last month during a routine assignment. Some of her soldiers had gone to the Baya Local Police Station, one of 18 local stations in the troubled southern outskirts of Baghdad where her unit has worked this year. They were picking up a contingent of Iraqi policemen for a daily patrol of Dora, an especially violent neighborhood here in the capital.

On these patrols, the Americans, swaddled in Kevlar from head to hips, travel in Humvees and other armored vehicles. The Iraqis, wearing only bulletproof vests, ride in soft-skinned pickup trucks and S.U.V.’s, the only vehicles they have.

The Iraqi policemen begged the Americans not to make them go out. They peeled off their clothes to reveal shrapnel scars from past attacks. They tugged the armored plates from their Kevlar vests and told the Americans they were faulty. They said they had no fuel for their vehicles. They disappeared on indefinite errands elsewhere in the compound. They said they would not patrol if it meant passing a trash pile, a common hiding place for bombs.

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