Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, originally posted to VVAW.NET, was forwarded to the blog by David Zeiger, November 11, 2009
Please Don't Thank Me For My Service - Veterans Day Any Year
I can see That Wall in DC. I'm thinking of those two hundred names and faces I can't remember, eighteen and nineteen year old boys from my Basic Training company, "Killed In Action" before their 19th birthdays. I've seen their names on that wall while looking for my own.
Every time I hear, "Thank-you for serving!" I want to reply, "Fuck You!"
For which of the following are you thanking me:
a) learning how to do field abortions on "pregnant gook girls";
b) Being part of a military that is responsible for millions of deaths in Vietnam;
c) Refusing orders to Vietnam;
d) Participating in the GI Movement;
e) Thinking for myself;
f) Not thinking for myself;
g) Following or not following orders?
As a member of the United States Army from 1965 - 1970, I was NOT defending America, our allies, your families or friends. America was NOT being attacked by the Vietnamese, much in the same way that America is NOT being attacked by Iraqis
I for one, do NOT thank current soldiers for their service in Iraq or Afghanistan! I thank and honor those who repudiate this nation's militarism. I thank Iraq Veterans Against the War for their thought, action and lives. I thank those veterans who organized and testified at the IVAW Winter Soldier Hearings last year and who continue to give witness to atrocity and mayhem. ivaw.org/wintersoldier/testimony
On Veteran's Day, I salute, in addition to IVAW, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Veterans For Peace, The National Liberation Front of Vietnam, WWII Allied Forces led by General Dwight Eisenhower; I salute Resistance Fighters against the nazi's throughout Europe; Resistance movements from South Africa to South Harlem, from Philadelphia to Nicaragua where my government spent millions attempting to overthrow a democratic government who's president had the nerve to be critical of the United States.
I do salute those who choose to defend America. Go get the bad guy, McCain will tell you right where he is, but why thank anyone for killing tens of thousands of civilians cause you can't find the right cave and invaded the wrong nation? Was their a right nation to invade? Should I thank today's soldiers for being lied to and believing in that lie? Perhaps their "good intentions" deserve a salute?
On this Veteran's Day, I again salute those veterans, from the armed forces of all nations who use their training, intelligence and compassion to seek ways in which our governments can find peace without increased militarization of the globe and our ways of life.
You may thank me, and I'd be honored, for my resistance to imperial war, for my support of the National Liberation Front of Vietnam, for my continued activism that nourishes my soul and gives me reason to live and create. You may thank me for encouraging young men and women to think for themselves and to resist deployment orders.
Just don't blindly thank me for anything you don't know about.
Perhaps that's why I can't seem to find my name on that Wall in a waking state.
This article, by Kim Sengupta was published in The Independent, Augiust 31, 2009.
The commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan will ask for 20,000 more international troops as part of his new strategic plan for the alliance's war against a resurgent Taliban, The Independent has learned.
The demand from General Stanley McChrystal will almost certainly lead to more British soldiers being sent to the increasingly treacherous battlegrounds of Helmand, the Taliban heartland, despite growing opposition to the war.
General McChrystal, tasked with turning the tide in the battle against the insurgency on the ground, has given a presentation of his draft report to senior Afghan government figures in which he also proposes raising the size of the Afghan army and police force.
But the request for troop reinforcements will come at a time of intensifying public debate about the role of the Nato mission. Last month saw a record number of troop deaths and injuries in a conflict that has claimed more than 200 British soldiers since the start of the US-led invasion in 2001. British losses rose sharply last month with 22 deaths, making it the bloodiest month for UK forces since the Falklands war. August has been the deadliest month for American troops in the eight-year war. Most of the deaths have come from lethal roadside bombs that Western troops appear unable to combat effectively. For the first time, the American public now views the fight against the Taliban as unwinnable, according to the most recent opinion polls.
The conduct of the Afghan government has not helped the mood on either side of the Atlantic. While US, British and other foreign troops are dying in what is supposedly a mission to rid Afghanistan of al-Qa'ida militants and make the country safe for democracy, the incumbent President stands accused of forging alliances with brutal warlords and overseeing outright fraud in an attempt to "steal" the national elections, the results of which are still being counted.
Last week, General David Petraeus, the head of US Central Command, intervened against a backdrop of heightened debate about the UK's military role. He stressed that the objective of the war was "to ensure that Afghanistan does not again become a sanctuary for al-Qa'ida and other extremists".
According to General McChrystal's draft plan, the number of Afghan troops would rise from 88,000 to 250,000, and the police force from 82,000 to 160,000 by 2012. These increases are higher than expected, with previous suggestions that the totals would be raised to 134,000 and 120,000 for the army and police respectively.
The US commander will, however, ask other Nato countries to send further reinforcements and will travel shortly to European capitals to discuss the issue. It is widely expected that the UK will send up to 1,500 more troops. At the same time, a force of 700 sent to help provide security for the Afghan elections last week on a temporary basis will become a permanent presence.
Following the withdrawal from Iraq, British military commanders, backed by the then Defence Secretary, John Hutton, had recommended in the spring that up to 2,500 extra troops could be sent to Afghanistan. However, following lobbying from the Treasury, Gordon Brown agreed to only the temporary deployment of 700. Criticism of the decision by senior officers has led, it is claimed, to Downing Street changing its stance.
General McChrystal, who replaced Gen David McKiernan as Nato chief in Afghanistan earlier this year, was originally due to produce his strategic report this month, but decided to wait until after the Afghan presidential election. According to Western and Afghan sources he is continuing to take soundings from various quarters and the finalised document is due out after it becomes clear whether or not a second round of voting is needed to decide the outcome of the poll.
As part of an initial troop surge overseen by General McChrystal, the US has already committed to boosting its forces from 31,000 to 68,000 this year. However Richard Holbrooke, President Obama's envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan was told by commanders in Afghanistan last week that those numbers would not be enough for what is being viewed as defining months of fighting to come.
In his meeting with Afghan officials, General McChrystal is reported to have stated that the extra troops would be needed to enforce a new policy of maintaining a presence in the areas captured from insurgents. This will provide security for residents and allow reconstruction and development.
Other Nato nations have the option of focusing on the training of Afghan security forces. However, say American officials, failure by Nato countries to "step up to the plate" would mean the shortfall would be covered by the US.
Diplomatic sources have also revealed that plans are being drawn up to sign a "compact" between Afghanistan and the US which will reiterate Washington's commitment to the security of Afghanistan while the Afghan government pledges to combat corruption and reinforce governance. Unlike previous international agreements over Afghanistan, the compact will be bilateral, without any other governments being involved. The timing of the agreement is due to coincide with a visit by Mr Karzai to New York, if, as expected, he emerges the election winner.
This article was posted to Yahoo News, August 12, 2009
As of Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2009, at least 4,332 members of the U.S. military had died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
The figure includes nine military civilians killed in action. At least 3,465 military personnel died as a result of hostile action, according to the military's numbers.
The AP count is three fewer than the Defense Department's tally, last updated Tuesday at 10 a.m. EDT.
The British military has reported 179 deaths; Italy, 33; Ukraine, 18; Poland, 21; Bulgaria, 13; Spain, 11; Denmark, seven; El Salvador, five; Slovakia, four; Latvia and Georgia, three each; Estonia, Netherlands, Thailand and Romania, two each; and Australia, Hungary, Kazakhstan and South Korea, one death each.
Since the start of U.S. military operations in Iraq, 31,463 U.S. service members have been wounded in hostile action, according to the Defense Department's weekly tally.
This article, by Jason Straziuso, was posted to Yahoo News, August 11, 2009
KABUL – U.S. and NATO deaths from roadside and suicide bomb blasts in Afghanistan soared six-fold in July compared with the same month last year, as militants detonated the highest number of bombs of the eight-year war, figures released Tuesday showed.
Three U.S. Marines and a Polish soldier died in the latest attacks, setting August on course to surpass the record 75 deaths U.S. and NATO troops suffered from all causes in July.
U.S. commanders have long predicted that 2009 would be the deadliest of the war, after President Barack Obama ordered an additional 21,000 troops here to try to quell the rising Taliban insurgency. A record 62,000 U.S. troops are now in Afghanistan.
U.S., NATO and Afghan troops are working to protect voting sites around the country so Afghans can take part in the country's second-ever direct presidential election Aug. 20. Taliban militants have vowed to disrupt the elections, and attacks are on the rise around Afghanistan, where roadside bombs are now the cause of the majority of U.S. and NATO deaths.
Last month 49 coalition troops died in bomb attacks, a more than six-fold increase from the eight killed in roadside and suicide bomb attacks in July 2008, according to figures from the U.S.-based Joint IED Defeat Organization.
The number of incidents from IEDs, or improvised explosive devices, soared to 828, the highest level of the war and more than twice as many as in July 2008. Of those 828 incidents, 410 bombs were found and neutralized and 310 were ineffective. But 108 bombs were effective, triple the 36 effective attacks a year ago, an increase that suggests militants are getting better at placing and detonating bombs.
"The major challenge today for us is roadside bombs and suicide attacks," said Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, spokesman for Afghanistan's Defense Ministry. Azimi said that Taliban militants have figured out that roadside bombs are an efficient and effective method of attack. "They stay safe while the other side suffers."
Though roadside bombs target U.S., NATO and Afghan troops, the blasts have killed a record number of civilians this year as well. Nine Afghans riding in a vehicle died in a bomb blast Tuesday in Kandahar province, said Daud Farhad, a doctor at Kandahar's Mirwais hospital.
"The enemy has moved to increase the use of indiscriminate IEDs against our forces as well as the Afghan people," said U.S. Lt. Col. Todd Vician, a spokesman for the NATO-led force. He said IED attacks are up in part because of increased operations by NATO troops.
Afghan soldier deaths from IEDs are also up sharply, Azimi said, but had no figures. A roadside bomb in Zabul killed two Afghan soldiers Tuesday, said Lt. Gen. Sher Mohammad Zazai.
At least 14 NATO troops, including at least seven Americans, have died in bomb blasts this month.
Some 4,000 U.S. Marines who stormed into southern Helmand province last month were confronted with dozens of bombs buried in Afghanistan's dirt roads. Militants have become more sophisticated at hiding the bombs, and insurgents have begun planting several in small areas, troops say.
British troops operating in Helmand have also suffered greatly from roadside bombs. A record number of British troops — 22 — died in Afghanistan last month, including 12 from explosions, raising an outcry in Britain about a lack of helicopters and other equipment.
More than 230 coalition troops were wounded in bomb attacks last month, more than triple the 67 wounded last July, U.S. figures show. Joint Task Force Paladin, the counter-IED unit at the main U.S. base at Bagram, predicted earlier this year that IED attacks would rise 50 percent in Afghanistan in 2009.
A recent U.N. report said at least 1,013 civilians were killed in the first six months of this year from insurgents bombs, compared with 818 for the same period in 2008 — an increase of 24 percent.
Even as bomb blasts spike in Afghanistan, such attacks have dropped precipitously in Iraq.
No coalition troops died in Iraq last month from bomb attacks, only the second month that's happened since the military began keeping statistics in June 2003. March 2009 was the other month. The number of IED incidents in Iraq fell from 557 in July 2008 to 166 last month. Only nine of those incidents were classified as effective attacks.
The NATO command in Afghanistan said Tuesday that three U.S. troops died in southern Afghanistan in separate "hostile fire incidents." It did not disclose the exact location of the attacks. The first died of wounds suffered in an incident that occurred Saturday, another died Sunday and the third died Monday, a NATO statement said.
At least 27 foreign troops, including 18 Americans, have died in August, a record pace, according to an Associated Press count. July, when 75 troops died, was the deadliest month in Afghanistan for U.S. and NATO forces since the 2001 U.S. invasion. Forty-four Americans died last month.
A Polish soldier and 22 Taliban insurgents also died in the latest violence.
Polish Capt. Daniel Ambrozinski, 32, disappeared Monday after his foot patrol of about 50 Afghan and Polish troops came under fire, Poland's Defense Ministry said. His body was found early Tuesday in Ajristan, in eastern Ghazni province.
Afghan officials said clashes and airstrikes in the south of the country killed nearly two dozen Taliban fighters. Twelve insurgents died in airstrikes and clashes with Afghan and Western forces on the border of Ghazni and Zabul provinces, said Wazir Khan, a local official. The militants were killed late Monday inside a compound, Khan said.
Ten Taliban were killed in Uruzgan Monday night in a fight with Afghan and foreign troops, Zazai said.
Elsewhere in the south, British troops seized a quarter ton of opium and killed seven militants in a major air assault involving 300 troops and 18 U.S., U.K. and Australian helicopters, officials said. The troops found 550 pounds (250 kilograms) of wet opium.
This article, by Malou Innocent, was published by the Huffington Post, July 22, 2009
July has been the deadliest month yet for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. At least 27 troops have died so far this month, and an estimated 746 soldiers have died since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom.
To combat the growing Taliban insurgency, the United States recently dispatched 4,000 troops to Afghanistan's restive eastern and southern provinces. The influx of troops, known as Operation Strike of the Sword, will be aimed at clearing Taliban fighters from the lower Helmand River valley and closing the border with Pakistan.
But after nearly eight years of fighting in Afghanistan, the war's strategic rationale still remains tenuous. Given Afghanistan's numerous challenges, and the fact that a protracted guerrilla war will weaken the United States militarily and economically, the fundamental objective should be to get out of Afghanistan.
Eight years after the fall of the Taliban regime, the country still struggles to survive under the most brutal circumstances: corrupt and ineffective state institutions; thousands of miles of unguarded borders; pervasive illiteracy among a largely rural and decentralized population; a weak president; and a dysfunctional international alliance. As if that weren't enough, some of Afghanistan's neighbors have incentives to foment instability there. The elephant in the Pentagon
Recently, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who commanded special operations forces in Iraq and this month became the commander of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, said he wants to avoid more civilian deaths. Concern over civilian casualties makes sense in counterinsurgency, since the local population is the strategic center of gravity. I'll concede that the infusion of 21,000 more troops by the end of this year — which Obama approved within his first 100 days in office — may lead to a reduction in violence in the medium-term. But the elephant in the Pentagon is that the intractable cross-border insurgency will likely outlive the presence of international troops. Honestly, Afghanistan is not a winnable war by any stretch of the imagination.
Regardless, some analysts, like former national security advisor Henry Kissinger, argue that America must not withdraw from Afghanistan, because doing so would boost jihadism globally and make America look weak. But if leaving would make America look weak, trying to stay indefinitely while accomplishing little would appear even worse.
Take, for example, current operations to fight the Taliban, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the Haqqani network, and other jihadist groups in Afghanistan. Despite the best efforts of the U.S. military to avoid harming innocents, the sheer magnitude of air strikes means that civilian casualties are inevitable. Thus, the argument that U.S. forces must remain in Afghanistan (apparently indefinitely) to protect America's reputation is dubious, because prolonging combat operations will kill even more civilians and reinforce the narrative that militants are fighting against foreign occupiers. Repeating the mistakes of Vietnam
Sadly, the longer we stay in Afghanistan and the more money we spend, the more we'll feel compelled to remain in the country to validate the investment. A similar self-imposed predicament plagued U.S. officials during the war in Vietnam. Oddly enough, when opinion leaders in Washington talk about "lessons learned" from Vietnam and other conflicts, they typically draw the wrong lesson: not that America should avoid intervening in someone else's domestic dispute, but that America should never give up after having intervened, no matter what the cost. Driven by that misguided analysis, the United States risks repeating the same mistake in Afghanistan.
Perhaps most troubling about the reflexive "stay the course" mentality of some Americans is the widespread insensitivity about the thousands of people — civilian and military, domestic and foreign — killed, maimed, and traumatized in war. But history shows that, sooner or later, disenchantment will manifest in public and congressional attitudes. After nearly a decade in Afghanistan, even the memory of 9/11 might not be sufficient to outweigh the sacrifice in blood and treasure.
Bureaucratic inertia and a misplaced conception of Washington's moral obligations (an argument that more often than not legitimizes America's military occupation of a foreign people) threaten to trap the United States in Afghanistan for decades. Overall, remaining in Afghanistan is more likely to tarnish America's reputation and undermine U.S. security than would withdrawal.
This article, by Ernesto Londoño and Karen DeYoung, was published in the Washington Post, July 17, 2009.
BAGHDAD, July 17 -- The Iraqi government has moved to sharply restrict the movement and activities of U.S. forces in a new reading of a six-month-old U.S.-Iraqi security agreement that has startled American commanders and raised concerns about the safety of their troops.
In a curt missive issued by the Baghdad Operations Command on July 2 -- the day after Iraqis celebrated the withdrawal of U.S. troops to bases outside city centers -- Iraq's top commanders told their U.S. counterparts to "stop all joint patrols" in Baghdad. It said U.S. resupply convoys could travel only at night and ordered the Americans to "notify us immediately of any violations of the agreement."
The strict application of the agreement coincides with what U.S. military officials in Washington say has been an escalation of attacks against their forces by Iranian-backed Shiite extremist groups, to which they have been unable to fully respond.
If extremists realize "some of the limitations that we have, that's a vulnerability they could use against us," a senior U.S. military intelligence official said. "The fact is that some of these are very politically sensitive targets" thought to be close to the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The new guidelines are a reflection of rising tensions between the two governments. Iraqi leaders increasingly see the agreement as an opportunity to show their citizens that they are now unequivocally in charge and that their dependence on the U.S. military is minimal and waning.
The June 30 deadline for moving U.S. troops out of Iraqi towns and cities was the first of three milestones under the agreement. The U.S. military is to decrease its troop levels from 130,000 to 50,000 by August of next year.
U.S. commanders have described the pullout from cities as a transition from combat to stability operations. But they have kept several combat battalions assigned to urban areas and hoped those troops would remain deeply engaged in training Iraqi security forces, meeting with paid informants, attending local council meetings and supervising U.S.-funded civic and reconstruction projects.
The Americans have been taken aback by the new restrictions on their activities. The Iraqi order runs "contrary to the spirit and practice of our last several months of operations," Maj. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger, commander of the Baghdad division, wrote in an e-mail obtained by The Washington Post.
"Maybe something was 'lost in translation,' " Bolger wrote. "We are not going to hide our support role in the city. I'm sorry the Iraqi politicians lied/dissembled/spun, but we are not invisible nor should we be." He said U.S. troops intend to engage in combat operations in urban areas to avert or respond to threats, with or without help from the Iraqis.
"This is a broad right and it demands that we patrol, raid and secure routes as necessary to keep our forces safe," he wrote. "We'll do that, preferably partnered."
U.S. commanders have not publicly described in detail how they interpret the agreement's vaguely worded provision that gives them the right to self-defense. The issue has bedeviled them because commanders are concerned that responding quickly and forcefully to threats could embarrass the Iraqi government and prompt allegations of agreement violations.
A spate of high-casualty suicide bombings in Shiite neighborhoods, attributed to al-Qaeda in Iraq and related Sunni insurgent groups, has overshadowed the increase of attacks by Iran-backed Shiite extremists, U.S. official say.
Officials agreed to discuss relations with the Iraqi government and military, and Iranian support for the extremists, only on the condition of anonymity because those issues involve security, diplomacy and intelligence.
The three primary groups -- Asaib al-Haq, Khataib Hezbollah and the Promised Day Brigades -- emerged from the "special groups" of the Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM) militia of radical Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, which terrorized Baghdad and southern Iraq beginning in 2006. All receive training, funding and direction from Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force.
"One of the things we still have to find out, as we pull out from the cities, is how much effectiveness we're going to have against some of these particular target sets," the military intelligence official said. "That's one of the very sensitive parts of this whole story."
As U.S. forces tried to pursue the alleged leaders of the groups and planned missions against them, their efforts were hindered by the complicated warrant process and other Iraqi delays, officials said.
Last month, U.S. commanders acquiesced to an Iraqi government request to release one of their most high-profile detainees, Laith Khazali. He was arrested in March 2007 with his brother, Qais, who is thought to be the senior operational leader of Asaib al-Haq. The United States thinks they were responsible for the deaths of five American soldiers in Karbala that year.
Maliki has occasionally criticized interference by Shiite Iran's Islamic government in Iraqi affairs. But he has also maintained close ties to Iran and has played down U.S. insistence that Iran is deeply involved, through the Quds Force, in training and controlling the Iraqi Shiite extremists.
U.S. intelligence has seen "no discernible increase in Tehran's support to Shia extremists in recent months," and the attack level is still low compared with previous years, U.S. counterterrorism official said. But senior military commanders maintained that Iran still supports the Shiite militias, and that their attacks now focus almost exclusively on U.S. forces.
After a brief lull, the attacks have continued this month, including a rocket strike on a U.S. base in Basra on Thursday night that killed three soldiers.
The acrimony that has marked the transition period has sowed resentment, according to several U.S. soldiers, who said the confidence expressed by Iraqi leaders does not match their competence.
"Our [Iraqi] partners burn our fuel, drive roads cleared by our Engineers, live in bases built with our money, operate vehicles fixed with our parts, eat food paid for by our contracts, watch our [surveillance] video feeds, serve citizens with our [funds], and benefit from our air cover," Bolger noted in the e-mail.
A spokesman for Bolger would not say whether the U.S. military considers the Iraqi order on July 2 valid. Since it was issued, it has been amended to make a few exemptions. But the guidelines remain far more restrictive than the Americans had hoped, U.S. military officials said.
Brig. Gen. Heidi Brown, the commander overseeing the logistical aspects of the withdrawal, said Iraqi and U.S. commanders have had fruitful discussions in recent days about the issue.
"It's been an interesting time, and I think we've sorted out any misunderstandings that were there initially," she said in an interview Friday.
One U.S. military official here said both Iraqi and American leaders on the ground remain confused about the guidelines. The official said he worries that the lack of clarity could trigger stalemates and confrontations between Iraqis and Americans.
"We still lack a common understanding and way forward at all levels regarding those types of situations," he said, referring to self-defense protocols and the type of missions that Americans cannot conduct unilaterally.
In recent days, he said, senior U.S. commanders have lowered their expectations.
"I think our commanders are starting to back off the notion that we will continue to execute combined operations whether the Iraqi army welcomes us with open arms or not," the U.S. commander said. "However, we are still very interested in and concerned about our ability to quickly and effectively act in response to terrorist threats" against U.S. forces.
This letter, from Martha Gillis,was originally published in the Washington Post, July 5, 2009
Sunday, July 5, 2009
My nephew, Brian Bradshaw, was killed by an explosive device in Afghanistan on June 25, the same day that Michael Jackson died. Mr. Jackson received days of wall-to-wall coverage in the media. Where was the coverage of my nephew or the other soldiers who died that week? There were several of them, and our family crossed paths with the family of another fallen soldier at Dover Air Force Base, where the bodies come "home." Only the media in Brian's hometown and where he was stationed before his deployment covered his death.
I remember Brian as a toddler wandering around in cowboy boots and hat, not seeing the need for any other clothing. He grew into a thoroughly decent person with a wry sense of humor. He loved wolves and history. Most Christmases, I gave him a biography or some analysis of the Civil War. He read such things for pleasure.
He had old-fashioned values and believed that military service was patriotic and that actions counted more than talk. He wasn't much for talking, although he could communicate volumes with a raised eyebrow.
He was a search-and-rescue volunteer, an altar boy, a camp counselor. He carried the hopes and dreams of his parents willingly on his shoulders. What more than that did Michael Jackson do or represent that earned him memorial "shrines," while this soldier's death goes unheralded?
It makes me want to scream.
This article, by Jason Ditz, was posted to Antiwar.com, May 11, 2009
According to the Pentagon, a US soldier today opened fire on his fellow GIs at Camp Liberty in Baghdad, Iraq, killing five of them and wounding two others. The soldier in question is reportedly in custody over the incident.
The shooting is said to have occurred at a counseling center on the base, where soldiers receive help for combat-related stress. No other details were readily available about the incident, which ties a bombing last month in Mosul for the most US soldiers killed in a single incident in 2009.
President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates both expressed “shock” at the shootings, and Gates said they were still investigating the incident.
This article, by Patrick Cockburn, was originally published in The Independent, May 9, 2009
One of the four soldiers killed on a day that will go down as among the bloodiest for the British in Helmand was described last night as "the bravest of warriors and a selfless hero".
Corporal Sean Binnie, 22, was shot as he went to the aid of the Afghan National Army soldiers he was mentoring, said his commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Cartwright, adding: "With no thought for his own safety, he went forward to engage the enemy and get his comrades out of danger."
Cpl Binnie, of The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland, was killed on Thursday during a battle with the Taliban near Musa Qaleh. He died on the same day as three more soldiers from other regiments were killed in incidents across the southern Afghan province.
Last night his wife Amanda said: "My husband, my hero – you have been so strong and brave. Our married life has been a short six months and I'm speaking for both of us in saying it was the best six months ever. I know you have died a happy married man in doing what you loved. We're so proud of you. God bless you babe." While his mother Janette said the family were proud but devastated, Cpl Binnie's friends spoke of an enthusiastic, determined man for whom "second best just wasn't good enough".
Since joining the Army as a teenager, the "excellent junior non-commissioned officer" had already served in Iraq – where The Black Watch endured some of the harshest fighting of the British forces' time in the country when deployed north to support the Americans in 2004.
Remembering his love of chess and chocolate, his friends said that his selfless courage on the day he died was typical of the man.
"He was not just a soldier but a hero to the end. I am proud to say I knew him; a comrade, a friend fearless in battle, and a true leader of men. The bravest of warriors, our fallen brother," said Lance Corporal Charles Brady.
Three separate attacks on Thursday brought the total British death toll in Afghanistan to 157.
Two of the dead – one from the1st Battalion, The Royal Gurkha Rifles and one from the 3rd Regiment, the Royal Military Police – were killed when their patrol was attacked by a suicide bomber in the town of Gereshk on the main Herat to Kandahar road.
The bomber detonated his explosives close to a military vehicle in the bazaar in Gereshk and killed 21 Afghan civilians as well as the British soldiers.
The Taliban are increasingly using suicide bombers and one of their spokesmen said early this week that in some provinces they already had enough volunteers to carry out bombings for three or four months. Gereshk, one of the most heavily-populated parts of Helmand, lies on flat well-watered land north of the provincial capital Lashkar Gah. It is not considered a Taliban stronghold by Afghans from the area. Most of its people are farmers who grow opium poppies as well as wheat and corn.
The fourth British soldier to die was from the 2nd Battalion, The Rifles and was killed by a mine in the road or and improvised explosive device near Sangin. The Taliban is now in the habit of utilising mines, detonated by a command wire or electronically, to attack military patrols.
Meanwhile the US military has strenuously denied that its aircraft killed 147 Afghan civilians on Monday in three villages in Farah province, saying that the number was "extremely over-exaggerated". Abdul Basir Khan, a member of the provincial council, says he collected the names of 147 dead villagers from relatives. Local officials all cite the number of villagers killed as being well over 100.
The American explanation has been that the Taliban killed many villagers with grenades. This is denied by local people and photographs of the ruins of the villages show large craters and shattered mud brick walls, which look as if they had been destroyed by the blasts of large bombs. Many of the bodies have been buried in mass graves, but those pictured before burial show that many had been blown apart by the explosions. There are no signs of bullet holes in the walls of the villages or any spent cartridges on the ground, which suggests that bombs alone inflicted the damage.
This report, by Brandi Powell, was posted to the Austin News 8 website, March 30, 2009
Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli said the number of suicides among soldiers is too high, and a task force has been set up to work on the issue.
The Army said rates from the Department of Defense for soldier suicides are now above the rates put out by the Centers for Disease Control, when comparing like-groups of young people.
Chiarelli said the CDC's latest data is from 2006.
"This is the first time in my career we have ever exceeded the CDC's rate for a demographically adjusted population," Chiarelli said.
Still, he said the up-to-143 Army suicides nationwide in 2008, isn't going unnoticed.
"Twenty per 100,000 is far too large, and we've got to try to do something about that," Chiarelli said.
Those are just numbers for what he called "active component forces." So far in 2009, Chiarelli said there have been up to 60 soldier suicides across the country.
According to Fort Hood, there has been one confirmed suicide since the beginning of 2009, but Fort Hood leadership said they made the conscious decision not to give statistics on the number of suicides on base in 2007 and 2008. They said they don't want to pit one base against another.
Looking forward, after seven-and-a-half years of war and multiple deployments, Chiarelli said they're honing in on soldiers' current needs.
"Many of our authorizations for mental health care providers were put together long before we started fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan," Chiarelli said.
He said the Army is trying to get more mental health professionals on board at bases like Fort Hood who understand the specific issues involved with soldiers who've been deployed .
Some soldiers like the idea, but they say that hasn't been the main issue on their minds.
"Most of us don't realize there's a shortage," Major Dave Olson, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, said. "We're just afraid of the stigma, at least a lot of guys like me. Now that the stigma's been reduced, we don't need to be afraid of that anymore." Chaplains said over the past couple years they have seen the same amount of soldiers coming in for help with mental health concerns.
"I would say it's about the same because since 9/11, units are rotating in and rotating out combat operations," Lt. Col. Stephen Kelley, Garrison Family Life Chaplain, said.
The task force will continue to look at the total health of its soldiers and their families.
Fort Hood said there is no change in what dependents of soldiers get, if the death is ruled a suicide.