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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Thius editorial, by Eugene Robinson, was published by the Washington Post, November 13, 2009
The most dreadful burden of the presidency -- the power to send men and women to die for their country -- seems to weigh heavily on Barack Obama these days. He went to Dover Air Force Base to salute the coffins of fallen troops. He gave a moving speech at the memorial service for victims of last week's killings at Fort Hood. On Veterans Day, after the traditional wreath-laying at Arlington National Cemetery, he took an unscheduled walk among the rows of marble headstones in Section 60, where the dead from our two ongoing wars are buried.
As he decides whether to escalate the war in Afghanistan, Obama should keep these images in mind. Geopolitical calculation has human consequences. Sending more troops will mean more coffins arriving at Dover, more funerals at Arlington, more stress and hardship for military families. It would be wrong to demand such sacrifice in the absence of military goals that are clear, achievable and worthwhile.
And what goals in Afghanistan remotely satisfy those criteria?
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, recently sent two classified cables to officials in Washington expressing what the newspaper described as "deep concerns" about sending more troops now.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, chosen by Obama to lead U.S. forces in Afghanistan, has asked for perhaps 40,000 additional troops to carry out a counterinsurgency campaign. Armchair Napoleons in Washington, comfortably ensconced in their book-lined offices, insist that Obama must "listen to the generals." But Eikenberry was a four-star general until Obama named him ambassador earlier this year. He commanded U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2006-07. He needs to be heard as well.
In what were described as sharply worded cables, Eikenberry reportedly expressed serious doubts about the willingness of Afghan President Hamid Karzai to tackle the corruption and mismanagement that have made his government so unpopular and ineffectual -- and that have allowed the Taliban to effectively regain control of much of the country.
Karzai, you will recall, committed what observers described as widespread, blatant election fraud in "winning" a new term in office. In many parts of Afghanistan, the Karzai government is seen as so weak and corrupt that the Taliban has been able to move in as a lesser-of-two-evils alternative.
It is axiomatic that a successful counterinsurgency program requires a partnership with a reliable, legitimate government. If the Karzai regime is not such a partner, the goal that McChrystal would be pursuing with those extra 40,000 troops will not be achievable.
Obama is also reportedly considering scenarios in which he would send roughly 30,000 extra troops, somehow persuading our unwilling NATO allies to make up the difference, or send about 20,000 troops and modify the McChrystal plan, opting instead for a "hybrid" strategy that's part counterinsurgency, part counterterrorism. I'm skeptical that either of these options sets goals that are achievable, and I'm certain that neither sets goals that are clear.
Following his visits to Dover, Fort Hood and Arlington Cemetery, Obama should focus the attention of the White House and the Pentagon on a question that too often is overlooked: What troops?
Our all-volunteer armed forces have been at war for eight years with no end in sight, serving tours of duty of up to 15 months in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. Many units have been called to serve multiple tours. By contrast, most Vietnam War soldiers served a single one-year tour.
Fighting two big simultaneous wars with our armed forces stretched so thin has put enormous emotional, psychological and economic stress on military families. The suicide rate in the armed forces has climbed steadily, as has the incidence of stress disorders among veterans. The Pentagon is adept at shuttling its people around and has worked out how to provide the 40,000 troops McChrystal wants. But any new deployment would come at a heavy cost -- a human cost -- far beyond the billions of dollars required to train, equip, transport and maintain the units being sent.
There are reports that Obama has refused to sign off on any plan until his advisers tell him how they propose to end the expanded war they advocate. But this sounds like just another way of saying: Tell me how we're going to fix the mistake we're about to make.
As long as our goals in Afghanistan remain as elusive as they are now, Obama shouldn't be sending troops. He should be bringing them out.
This article, by Jonathan Adams, was published by The Christian Science Monitor, October 26, 2009
The two helicopter crashes in Afghanistan, which officials do not think were from enemy fire, come as the US mulls its Afghan war strategy.
Fourteen Americans were killed and more injured in two separate incidents of helicopter crashes Monday in Afghanistan, underscoring the risks of the increasingly controversial US-led war.
Neither incident involved hostile fire, according to statements from NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
The latest casualties come as Afghanistan prepares for a Nov. 7 runoff vote for the presidency, and as President Obama is believed to be near the conclusion of an intensive, month-long review of the US-led coalition's Afghanistan strategy.
CNN reported that the first incident occurred in western Afghanistan. "Seven U.S. service members and three U.S. civilians were killed," an ISAF statement said. "Those injured include 14 Afghan service members, 11 U.S. service members and one U.S. civilian."
The other incident occurred when two helicopters crashed into each other in mid-air over southern Afghanistan, killing four Americans, the New York Times reported. Both incidences are being investigated.
"These separate tragedies today underscore the risks our forces and our partners face every day," said Col. Wayne Shanks, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. "Each and every death is a tremendous loss for the family and friends of each service member and civilian. Our grief is compounded when we have such a significant loss on one day.
"I can never truly express in mere words our condolences for the families for their loss and sacrifice."
The Associated Press reported Sunday that the total number of US military personnel killed since the US invasion of Afghanistan eight years ago was at least 807, with 624 dying by hostile fire. Four CIA officers have also been killed.
Monday's accidents bring that number to 821.
Separate statistics compiled by icasualties.org show that 2009 has been the most deadly year so far for coalition forces overall, with a total of 435 coalition military fatalities. (The site lists 1,480 total coalition military fatalities since the invasion in 2001.)
The surge in casualties ups the pressure on Mr. Obama, who is still mulling his overall Afghanistan strategy and has not decided whether to move ahead on a request from the top commander in Afghanistan for 40,000 more troops, the Agence France-Presse reported.
Some of his closest aides, including chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, have said it would be irresponsible to take a decision before a scheduled run-off election between [Afghan President Hamid Karzai] and his former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah on November 7 which follows a first round tainted by fraud.
According to the Washington Post, the Pentagon ran secret war games this month to test what are believed to be the two main options under debate by Obama's national security staff since late September. In the first, the US would send 44,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, as requested by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, in a massive effort to stabilize the country and roll back the Taliban insurgency.
In the second, much more limited option, dubbed "counter-terrorism plus," only 10,000 to 15,000 more soldier and Marines would be sent, and would focus on al Qaeda, rather than the Taliban insurgents.
The Pentagon war game did not formally endorse either course; rather, it tried to gauge how Taliban fighters, the Afghan and Pakistani governments and NATO allies might react to either of the scenarios. Mullen [Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff], a key player in the game, has discussed its conclusions with senior White House officials involved in the discussions over the new strategy.
The last of five review sessions on Afghanistan strategy, running altogether 15 hours, was held last week in the Situation Room, the Washington Post reported.
This article, by Pascal Zachary, was posted to In These Times, October 9. 2009.
For all the talk of polarization and partisanship in U.S. politics, what’s remarkable is the extent to which President Obama has continued policies and practices of his predecessor, George Bush, in domestic economics and military affairs.
Economically, Obama has continued the bailout of Wall Street, maintained Bush-era tax cuts, pursued “stimulus” through large deficit spending and re-appointed Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman who was a Bush favorite.
In defense, Obama has broken with Bush on a few critical matters, notably by canceling expensive weapons systems and dropping (in September) an aggressive plan to impose a “missile shield” in Eastern Europe that Russia intensely opposed. Yet Obama has carried over Bush’s secretary of defense, Robert Gates; essentially stuck with Bush timetables on Iraq; and maintained historically record levels of Pentagon spending. The president has continued the war in Afghanistan, raising the number of American combat troops. In a speech on August 17, Obama even tried to construct a moral basis for the war, described it as “not a war of choice,” but “a war of necessity.” And as a necessary war, “a war worth fighting,” Obama has declared that only through the democratization of Afghanistan can the terrorist threat to the United States—in the form of al Qaeda—be eliminated from the country.
Further escalation of the war in Afghanistan is no sure thing, however. Having voiced support for increasing combat troops earlier in his presidency, in September Obama seemed torn between three possibilities: escalation, muddling through with the current military footprint or shifting to a greatly “limited” combat mission that would concentrate on countering terrorists targeting the United States, rather than fighting the insurgent Taliban.
Obama’s decision is complicated by his earlier decision to ask his top Afghan military commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, to make the case for escalation. McChrystal is reportedly prepared to ask for an additional 40,000 U.S. troops—beyond the 68,000 American soldiers already approved to fight in Afghanistan.
While the question of whether or not the United States sends more troops to Afghanistan defines the current debate over the war, respected Democratic voices, such as Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Vice President Joseph Biden, are quietly stumping for a third way: limited war in Afghan, which would concentrate on countering terrorists and depend on a relatively small number of conventional combat troops. The “limited” advocates, who Obama seemingly ignored until recently, are offering the president a stark choice between escalating—and creating a new Vietnam-style quagmire—and a sharp reduction of ground troops, which would likely reduce both American deaths and the cost of the war. Supporters of this approach include conservative columnist George Will, who in a September column nicely summarized the “limited” war approach. “Forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy,” Will wrote. “America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.”
A third way
That escalation in Afghanistan is no longer viewed as inevitable is welcome. Yet missing from the debate is any serious consideration of complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. No single voice in the foreign policy establishment supports the speedy exit of combat forces, though even McChrystal concedes that the United States might soon experience involuntary withdrawal—in total defeat. “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near term (next 12 months)—while Afghan security capacity matures—risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible,” he wrote in his confidential assessment of the war, leaked to the Washington Post.
To be sure, the United States has already lost the war in meaningful ways. The month of October marks eight years of U.S. combat in Afghanistan. More than 800 American soldiers have died—and alarmingly more than one quarter of that total died in the past three months alone. Tens of billions of dollars have been spent since the war began. The Afghan government this summer presided over a fraudulent national election. Illegal opium production has exploded since 2001; for 2008, the United Nations valued Afghan drug exports at $3 billion. Polls show less than 40 percent of Americans favor the war in Afghanistan, the lowest level of support since the start of the war.
Calling for complete withdrawal, phased or immediate, remains a lonely position, endorsed by such independent foreign policy experts as Andrew J. Bacevich, of Boston University, and Robert Naiman, coordinator of Just Foreign Policy, an activist group. Democratic Party leaders, while fretting over parallels between an Afghan quagmire and the Vietnam War that doomed Lyndon Johnson’s presidency in the ’60s, are objecting to escalation. Sen. Carl Levin’s (D-Mich.) opposition to sending more troops, while trying to put limits on U.S. costs in the war, still holds fast to the notion that Afghan institutions, including the army, can be sufficiently strengthened to hold off the Taliban. Even many progressive advocacy groups, such as MoveOn, haven’t made rapid withdrawal form Afghanistan a high priority, perhaps fearing that by breaking with the president on war, they will weaken his ability to push through progressive domestic legislation like healthcare reform. But Code Pink, an influential peace group, has been calling on the president to “focus on negotiations and bringing our troops home.”
Getting the mission right
Yet the case for withdrawing from Afghanistan makes tactical, strategic and moral sense, chiefly because legitimate U.S. security needs can be achieved more effectively through other means. As Bacevich has written, “In Afghanistan today, the United States and its allies are using the wrong means to vigorously pursue the wrong mission.”
If there is a “right” mission in Afghanistan, it can only be to deny al-Qaeda and its friends the opportunity to attack Americans at home and abroad. After eight years in Afghanistan, U.S. troops (aided by much smaller forces from Britain, Germany, Canada, Italy and other “allied” countries) haven’t accomplished this. Yet targeted attacks by U.S. and allied forces are killing terrorists, highlighting an alternative to ground troops and an Afghan quagmire.
In September, U.S. military forces in Somalia killed Saleh Nabhan, the man believed to be responsible for attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Kenya and Tanzania. Predator drones, “robot” aircraft controlled from a distance by U.S. technicians, have killed al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan.
The use of assassination squads and remote-controlled killer planes present their own practical and moral problems. The wrong people can be killed, for instance. And such attacks require detailed knowledge of the movements of the targets. Some of the declared “enemies,” meanwhile, such as Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban government shattered by U.S. air strikes beginning on Oct. 7, 2001, might be worth negotiating with instead of killing. Omar remains head of the insurgency, a popular hero and important to any negotiated settlement in Afghanistan. Withdrawal of U.S. troops would be linked to progress in peace negotiation—and an acceptance that the Taliban, in some form, will play some role, if not a decisive role, in a new Afghan government.
An end to war in Afghanistan—and increased stability as a consequence of peaceful co-existence with the Taliban—would benefit Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants are believed to be living in a remote city. Secular political forces in Pakistan, which possesses nuclear weapons, are battling to keep the country out of the hands of religious fundamentalists who already exert profound influence. Anti-American feeling is extraordinarily high in Pakistan; even secular elites blame Americans for inflaming and exaggerating their domestic problems. The U.S. government, which is currently debating how much to increase financial assistance to Pakistan, would provide more effective help without troops in Afghanistan.
A comprehensive strategy
Defenders of escalation say that Afghanistan needs to be reformed and that the aim of U.S. intervention is to create a democratic society, where Afghanis are safe and free. The premise of a democratic Afghanistan informs McChrystal’s view of war aims; the commander’s edifice of escalation depends, he writes (weirdly echoing Hegel), on identifying “the objective will of the [Afghan] people.” In March, Obama gave powerful expression to this position when he announced his “comprehensive” strategy for Afghanistan. While his highest goal was to stop the use of the country as a terrorist staging ground, his next two were classic nation-building goals: to promote a more capable, accountable, and effective government in Afghanistan and a national army that can ultimately take over “counter-insurgency” efforts from Americans.
In the arena of democratization, the American effort was marred by last month’s flawed elections, which saw President Hamid Karzai steal enough votes to claim victory (there’s a recount now underway). The election fiasco pushed Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), an influential Democrat, to predict Afghanistan “will remain [a] tribal entity.” Such a place would require a strong U.S. military presence to hold together and (perhaps) the emergence of a homegrown dictator ruling the country with a “strong hand.”
Yet the very presence of American troops inflames ethnic differences.
Afghans view Americans as invaders and occupiers, and their very presence galvanizes opponents, creating more resistance. As Afghan army spokesman Zahir Azimi has said, “Where [American] forces are fighting, people think it is incumbent on them to resist the occupiers and infidels.” The self-perpetuating nature of the conflict explains the profound pessimism expressed by some with deep experience in the region. British Gen. David Richards, who served in Afghanistan, said in August that stabilizing the country could take 40 years. While such predictions are dismissed as hysterical, they are simply the logical extension of Levin’s insistence that the United States “increase and accelerate our efforts to support the Afghan security forces in their efforts to become self-sufficient in delivering security to their nation.” These efforts at self-reliance inevitably involve a significant American presence on the ground, which in turn fuels the very cycle that Levin insists he wants to avoid: a costly quagmire.
The alternative to a McChrystal escalation or a Levin quagmire requires no leap into the unknown but rather recognition of limits of American power and the legacy of Afghan history. The script for withdrawal is essentially already written—in Iraq, of all places. For the sake of temporary peace, Iraq has essentially been partitioned into three “sub-countries,” two of which are essentially ethnic enclaves. The same could be done in Afghanistan—though the number of sub-divisions could be larger, and acceptance of Taliban rule over some of them would be required. In this scenario, a phased pullout of U.S. forces could accompany the negotiated “government of national unity,” which—like in Iraq—would preserve the “notional” nation of Afghanistan while effectively deconstructing the territory into more manageable pieces.
The United States once blithely dealt with the Taliban (Dick Cheney, after all, famously met with the Taliban prior to bin Laden’s attacks). While retaining the right to attack al Qaeda on Afghan soil, the Obama administration could tolerate Taliban rule if the result of a stable Afghanistan was to free more resources and attention to Pakistan’s urgent security issues. The embrace of realism could well co-evolve with the re-emergence of a moral center to American foreign policy.
Under this scenario, withdrawal of American troops would not mean the end of military actions on Afghan soil. As advocates of “limited” war argue, attacks could still be made from Predator drones based elsewhere. But air strikes and attacks by U.S. “special forces” on Afghan soil risk undermining any government of national unity and the pretense that the United States has halted its war on the Taliban.
For President Obama, the stakes are high. His young presidency is on the line. Perhaps because his secretary of defense, Gates, is a Republican, Obama has personalized the decision on Afghan strategy to a dangerous degree. Afghanistan is now Obama’s war. By deciding to reduce, if not altogether remove, U.S. combat troops from the country, the president will take a step towards the moral high ground that he so often desperately seeks to inhabit.
Morality must return to the center of America’s relations with the world. Afghanistan could become, as Obama likes to say, “a teaching moment,” for this president and his wider constituency, the citizens of the planet. The Bush presidency damaged both the image of the United States as a role model for promoters of democratization around the world, and further entrenched a darker counter-view of America as a reactionary force in world affairs. The Obama presidency creates an opening to restore the brighter side. In continuing the war in Afghanistan, Obama risks destroying his chances to redeem the United States in the eyes of the world. By ending the Afghan war, quickly and decisively, the president will match his rhetoric of hope with reality. He will also save U.S. lives and create new openings for negotiation, diplomacy and regional solutions to problems in distant lands.
The Coffee Strong GI Coffeehouse is asking GIs stationed at Ft. Lewis to submit nominations for the worst Lt. at Ft. Lewis. To nominate your Lt., or read existing nominations, Click Here. On July 10, the following was posted
I kid you not, My first Lt. would use a gps and a plugger and still couldn't get the platoon from point A to point B.
We would do night ops and end up driving around the desert until the sun came up because of his incompetence.
My driver told me he'd seen the Lt. use a compass inside the Humvee. I didn't believe it until I saw it with my own eyes.
Why is it that the military thinks a college degree qualifies someone to be an officer?
This article, by Gareth Porter, was posted to Alternet, March 26, 2009
WASHINGTON, Mar 25 (IPS) -- Despite President Barack Obama’s statement at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina Feb. 27 that he had "chosen a timeline that will remove our combat brigades over the next 18 months," a number of Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs), which have been the basic U.S. Army combat unit in Iraq for six years, will remain in Iraq after that date under a new non-combat label.
A spokesman for Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Lt. Col. Patrick S. Ryder, told IPS Tuesday that "several advisory and assistance brigades" would be part of a U.S. command in Iraq that will be "re-designated" as a "transition force headquarters" after August 2010.
But the "advisory and assistance brigades" to remain in Iraq after that date will in fact be the same as BCTs, except for the addition of a few dozen officers who would carry out the advice and assistance missions, according to military officials involved in the planning process.
Gates has hinted that the withdrawal of combat brigades will be accomplished through an administrative sleight of hand rather than by actually withdrawing all the combat brigade teams. Appearing on "Meet the Press" Mar. 1, Gates said the "transition force" would have "a very different kind of mission," and that the units remaining in Iraq "will be characterized differently."
"They will be called advisory and assistance brigades," said Gates. "They won't be called combat brigades."
Obama’s decision to go along with the military proposal for a "transition force" of 35,000 to 50,000 troops thus represents a complete abandonment of his own original policy of combat troop withdrawal and an acceptance of what the military wanted all along -- the continued presence of several combat brigades in Iraq well beyond mid-2010.
National Security Council officials declined to comment on the question of whether combat brigades were actually going to be left in Iraq beyond August 2010 under the policy announced by Obama Feb. 27.
The term that has been used internally within the Army to designate the units that will form a large part of the "transition force" is not "Advisory and Assistance Brigades" but "Brigades Enhanced for Stability Operations" (BESO).
Lt. Col. Gary Tallman, a spokesman for the Joint Staff, confirmed Monday that BESO will be the Army unit deployed to Iraq for the purpose of the transition force. Tallman said the decision-making process now underway involving CENTCOM and the Army is to determine "the exact composition of the BESO".
But the U.S. Army has already been developing the outlines of the BESO for the past few months. The only change to the existing BCT structure that is being planned is the addition of advisory and assistance skills rather than any reduction in its combat power. The BCT is organized around two or three battalions of motorized infantry but also includes all the support elements, including its own artillery support, needed to sustain the full spectrum of military operations.
Those are permanent features of all variants of the BCT, which will not be altered in the new version to be deployed under a "transition force," according to specialists on the BCT.
They say the only issue on which the Army is still engaged in discussions with field commanders is what standard augmentation a BCT will need for its new mission.
Maj. Larry Burns of the Army Combined Arms Centre at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, told IPS that Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey directed the Combined Arms Centre, which specialises in Army mission and doctrine, to work on giving the BCTs the capability to carry out a training and advisory assistance mission.
The essence of the BESO variant of the BCTs, according to Burns, is that the Military Transition Teams working directly with Iraqi military units will no longer operate independently but will be integrated into the BCTs.
That development would continue a trend already begun in Iraq in which the BCTs have gradually acquired operational control over the previously independent Military Transition Teams, according to Maj. Robert Thornton of the Joint Center for International and Security Force Assistance at Fort Leavenworth.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, the commander of Army Training and Doctrine Command, has issued Planning Guidance calling for further refinement of the BESO. After further work on the additional personnel requirements, Casey was briefed on the proposed enhancement of the BCT for the second time in a month at a conference of four-star generals on Feb. 18, according to Burns.
Other names for the new variant that were used in recent months but eventually dropped made it explicitly clear that it is simply a slightly augmented BCT. Those names, according to Burns, included "Brigade Combat Team-Security Force Assistance" and "Brigade Combat Team for Stability Operations."
The plan to deploy several augmented BCTs represents the culmination of the strategy of "relabeling" or "remissioning" of BCTs in Iraq that was developed by U.S. military leaders in the wake of the surge of candidate Barack Obama to near-certain victory in the presidential election last year.
Late last year, Gen. David Petraeus, the CENTCOM chief, and Gen. Ray Odierno, the top commander in Iraq, were unhappy with Obama’s pledge to withdraw all U.S. combat brigades within 16 months. But military planners quickly hit on the relabeling scheme as a way of avoiding the complete withdrawal of BCTs in an Obama administration.
The New York Times revealed Dec. 4 that Pentagon planners were talking about "relabeling" of U.S. combat units as "training and support" units in a Dec. 4 story, but provided no details. Pentagon planners were projecting that as many as 70,000 U.S. troops would be maintained in Iraq "for a substantial time even beyond 2011".
That report suggested that the strategy envisioned keeping the bulk of the existing BCTs in Iraq as under a new label indicating an advisory and support mission.
Secretary Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen discussed a plan to re-designate U.S. combat troops as support troops at a meeting with Obama in Chicago on Dec. 15, according a report in the Times three days later.
Gates and Mullen reportedly speculated at the meeting on whether Iraqis would permit such "re-labeled" combat forces to remain in Iraqi cities and towns after next June, despite the fact that the U.S.-Iraq withdrawal agreement signed in November 2008 called for all U.S. combat forces to be withdrawn from populated areas by the end of June 2010.
That report suggests that Obama was well aware that giving the Petraeus and Odierno a free hand to determine the composition of a "transition force" of 35,000 to 50,000 troops meant that most combat brigades would remain in Iraq rather than being withdrawn, as he ostensibly promised the U.S. public on Feb. 27.
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.
This article, by Cameron George Halas, was posted to the IVAW website, march 25, 2009
If there was one thing that turned me against the war it was my faith in God.
After some time in Iraq, I saw that the Iraqis were regular people just like the guys in my unit. The propaganda surrounding them, like how they are a culture of hate and Islam is a violent religion, began to melt away.
Islam was originally a religion of peace, and the Iraqis had no problem practicing both their faith and friendship with us at the same time. I can never see myself as a Muslim, but how can I call myself an American if I didn't defend a Muslims right to be a Muslim. We were all brothers. Then we detained two innocent farmers, two men who had done nothing wrong.
That's when I began to question everything we were doing.
For answers I turned to my faith. Jesus taught us to love not only your neighbors but your enemies as well, turn the other cheek and that those who live by the sword die by the sword. In other words, fighting a war did not fit in with the things he taught us.
So what was I doing in a war if my faith was everything to me? Why does the religious right support this war if the man they so claim to follow is a man of peace?
The answer was that we kept making excuses. "Oh it's o.k. to go to war for this, it's o.k. to fight if they attack you." Well apart from the fact that Bush himself admitted that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, I decided to practice my faith without excuses this time in the last 6 months of my deployment.
And you know what it worked. I started getting along with guys in my unit who I never got along with before.
I also studied why they fight us in Iraq in the first place. We occupied them and started to take over. We invaded the lives of many Iraqis unnecessarily, like those two farmers. You take someone out, and you've made a family member or friend angry at you and they join the resistance against you.
We are the ones who are creating the insurgency.
Jesus did say, "You reap what you sow." So our mere presence and fighting over their is the source of the problem. It's not a white flag of surrender if we leave, it's a victory. We do what a very wise man told us to do by leaving and we remove the main problem, the occupation.
Jesus is indeed the Prince of Peace. So you can't follow God and support the war at the same time. He hates it when his children kill his children. God doesn't take the side of a war, he takes the side of peace, and if you open you scriptures (the New Testimant) you will find that to be true. "Blessed are the Peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God" You can't keep making excuses for one or the other, it either God or the War. I choose God, what's your choice?
This analysis, by Mohammed A. Salih, was originally distributed by IPS, March 3, 2009
COLUMBIA, Missouri, U.S., Mar 3 (IPS) - When U.S. President Barack Obama announced his plan last week to pull out all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by September 2010, the news did not generate much enthusiasm among Iraqi Kurds.
A simple math operation reveals the reasons behind the Kurds' anxiety - add the withdrawal plan to the recent staggering victory of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's supporters in the country's recent provincial elections.
Kurds are now counting on Obama's oft-repeated pledge for a "responsible" withdrawal, hoping their interests will be preserved. But a review of statements by Kurdish and U.S. officials reveals the two sides are mostly talking at cross purposes when they speak of "responsibility."
Recently, Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani gave his interpretation of the term "responsible."
"I restate that the role of the United States should be to help resolve the problems in Iraq such as Article 140, the oil law, and the law on the distribution of its oil wealth," Barzani told reporters in the northern city of Irbil, tallying the list of contentious issues between Kurds and Iraqi government.
Article 140 refers to a constitutional provision to settle the critical issue of disputed territories between Kurds and Iraqi Arabs, including the gold-prize contested city of Kirkuk which is afloat on some of the world’s largest oil reserves.
But for the U.S., "responsibility" appears to mean making sure Iraqi security forces can take over the task of protecting the country against rebellious forces once it leaves. To achieve that end, the U.S. is equipping and training Iraqi security forces. But this is hardly reassuring to Kurds, many of whom see a conflict with Baghdad forthcoming in some form in the future.
When asked whether the U.S. will act to resolve the problems between Iraqi Arabs and Kurds before leaving the country, U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood replied: "It's not really up to the United States to reassure anyone" and that Iraqis had to work out their differences through their "democracy."
But the balance of power in Baghdad is quickly tilting toward forces which Kurds do not perceive as amenable. Just shortly before Obama officially declared the U.S. withdrawal plan, the Kurds’ number one opponent in Baghdad, PM Maliki, found himself in a boosted position as his coalition of the State of Law scored a quite unexpected victory in nine of Iraq’s 18 provinces including Baghdad, the country’s most populous city of around six million. With Kurds and Baghdad at odds over several crucial issues, Obama’s withdrawal plan would only further strengthen Maliki’s position.
Disputes between the country’s Kurds and central government go back to the early days of the foundation of modern Iraq by British colonialism in 1920s. At the heart of contention are large chunks of territory marking the separation line between Kurdish and Arab Iraq.
Iraqi governments, most notably under Saddam Hussein, expelled tens of thousands of Kurds and Turkomans from those areas and replaced them with Arab settlers. While Kurds want to annex these areas to their autonomous region known as Kurdistan, the vast majority of the country’s Arab political parties vehemently oppose such plans. Kurdish attempts to expand their federal region have sparked fierce reactions in Baghdad.
Spearheading a growing trend in Iraqi politics to abort Kurdish efforts and stalling the establishment of new autonomous regions is Shia Prime Minister Maliki. He has called for further centralisation of power in Baghdad, accusing Kurds of going overboard with their demands.
Besides strengthening Maliki’s position, the provincial elections delivered a major blow to the Kurds’ only powerful ally in Arab Iraq that advocates federalism: the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, previously known to be the most powerful Shia Arab party in the country.
With their power in Baghdad thought to be in decline, Kurdish leaders are these days loudly beating their anti-Maliki drum to draw international attention to their problems with the rest of Iraq. PM Barzani told the Associated Press last month that he thinks Maliki is seeking a "confrontation" with the Kurds.
Kurdish officials have even reportedly called on Obama to appoint a special envoy to resolve their long-standing problems with Iraqi Arabs.
One Kurdish official took it even further, telling the Associated Press that al-Maliki was a "second Saddam." The alleged statement by Kamal Kirkuki, Kurdish parliament deputy speaker, was so ill-calculated that he had to issue a statement denying that he ever gave an interview to the AP.
As tensions appear to escalate, a consensus is taking shape among many analysts that things are moving toward a possible flare-up point.
"The threat (of conflict) is real," Kirmanj Gundi, head of the Kurdish National Congress (KNC) in North America, told IPS in a phone interview from Nashville, Tennessee, where the largest Kurdish community in North America resides.
"It’s unfortunate that the Kurdish leadership became more vocal about this only recently," Gundi said. KNC is a non-profit organisation lobbying for Kurdish interests in the U.S. and Canada.
But concerns about a possible outbreak of conflict between Kurds and the Iraqi government have gone far beyond Kurdish circles.
"It is critical for the U.S. to start thinking about this now because as we proceed with the disengagement, our influence will wane in Iraq," said Henry Barkey from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, of the need for the U.S. to address existing problems between Kurds and the Iraqi government before it leaves the war-torn country.
Barkey authored a report for the Washington-based think-tank on how to prevent conflict over Kurdistan. "Therefore, we need to hit the iron when it is hot. And so, it is very important to help and we haven't done this in the past, to help look at some of these issues," Barkey said on the sidelines of an event at Carnegie to discuss his report last month.
While Washington appears indifferent, at least in its official discourse, to calls for helping forge a common understanding between Iraqi Kurds and Arabs, tensions are continuing to build.
In an attempt to flex its muscles, the Iraqi government recently announced it will not recognise the visas stamped by Kurdish government on the passports of foreign visitors. It also tried to send an army division to take over security tasks in Kirkuk but had to halt the plan for the time being as it met stiff Kurdish opposition.
The coming two years - from now until the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq - will be decisive in determining how the Kurds’ relations with the central government and the country’s Arabs will turn out. But all signs are that Iraq is far from a long-term stability.
This article, by Pamela Hess, was published by the Associated Press, Februuary 20, 2009
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon says the Guantanamo Bay prison meets the standard for humane treatment laid out in the Geneva Conventions, according to a report for President Barack Obama, who has ordered the terrorist detention center closed within a year.
The report recommended some changes, including an increase in group recreation for some of the camp’s more dangerous or less compliant prisoners, according to a government official familiar with the study. The report also suggested allowing those prisoners to gather in groups of three or more, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the report has not officially been released.
Some of the hard-core prisoners are not currently allowed to meet with other prisoners for prayer or socialization and are kept in their cells for 23 hours a day. Alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed is among the prisoners who could be affected by the change. Prolonged social isolation has been known to harm mental health among prisoners.
The 85-page report by Adm. Patrick M. Walsh, the Navy’s second in command, was written in response to Obama’s Jan. 22 executive order to close the facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba within a year.
As a presidential candidate, Obama criticized the detention center that human rights groups and many in the international community widely condemned for harsh treatment of prisoners during the Bush administration. The military has defended its actions, saying prisoners have been treated humanely since the center was set up after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The report found the camp to be in compliance with the Geneva Conventions Common Article 3, the international rules that require the humane treatment of prisoners taken in unconventional armed conflicts, like the war on terrorism. The camp’s controversial force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strikes was also found to be compliant with the Geneva guidelines, a second government official confirmed.
Last month, the military judge in charge of deciding whether to charge Guantanamo detainees with crimes told The Washington Post at least one of the prisoners was tortured in 2002 and 2003, alleged Sept. 11 conspirator Mohammed al-Qahtani.
About 800 prisoners have been held there, many for years and nearly all without criminal charges. There are now around 250, including 17 from China who the United States wants to set free but cannot return to China for fear they will be tortured by the government.
Guantanamo was selected for legal reasons: as a military base, it is sovereign U.S. territory but, according to Bush administration lawyers, was outside the scope of the Constitution. That would allow prisoners to be prosecuted for war crimes using evidence that would be difficult to use in the U.S. civilian court system.
This article, by Robert Burns, was published by the Associated Press, Februuary 23, 2009
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama faces split opinions within the military on whether to make the speedy withdrawal from Iraq he championed on the campaign trail.
Obama’s top generals in Baghdad are pressing for an elongated timetable, while some influential senior advisers inside the Pentagon are more amenable to a quicker pullout.
Although Obama has yet to decide the matter, his announcement last week that he’s sending thousands more combat troops to Afghanistan implies a drawdown of at least two brigades from Iraq by summer.
But that does not answer the question that has been dangling over Iraq since he took office in January: Will Obama stick to his stated goal of a 16-month pullout or opt for a slower, less risky approac
Gen. Ray Odierno, the top American commander in Baghdad, favors a longer timetable for leaving Iraq. He sees 2009 as a pivotal year, with parliamentary elections set to be held in December; he doesn’t want to lose more than two of the 14 combat brigades that are now in Iraq before the end of the year. And he believes the U.S. military will need to remain engaged in Iraq, to some degree, for years to come.
Odierno’s boss at U.S. Central Command, Gen. David Petraeus, leans toward Odierno’s view.
Gen. David McKiernan, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has steered clear of the debate over withdrawing from Iraq, but he sees his battlefield as an increasingly urgent priority — not just for additional combat troops but also for Iraq-focused surveillance aircraft and more civilian support.
There are now about 146,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, compared with 38,000 in Afghanistan. Obama has directed 17,000 more to head to Afghanistan, including Marines and soldiers who had been in line for Iraq duty.
At the Pentagon, a more mixed view prevails. The uniformed service chiefs see Iraq as a strain on their troops and, more broadly, a drain on their resources. The Marines, in particular, are in the tough position of having a foothold in both major U.S. wars — Iraq and Afghanistan. As a relatively small service, they would prefer to concentrate more fully on Afghanistan, if only they could get out of Iraq.
Neither Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, nor Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said publicly whether he supports a 16-month withdrawal timeline. But they have their own perspective — an obligation to consider the full spectrum of threats and potential threats to U.S. national security.
“There’s a very clear understanding of what is at stake here,” Mullen said Feb. 10.
“And it’s very natural for Gen. Odierno to want to go slower and to hang onto capability as long as possible,” he added. “That’s not unusual. It’s very natural for Gen. McKiernan to say, ‘I need more.’ And so that’s the tension. We don’t have an infinite pot (of resources and deployable forces). We have to make hard decisions about where to accept risk.”
In internal discussions, the emphasis appears to be on getting out responsibly rather than quickly, several officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because no decisions have been made.
Obama must weigh an array of hard-to-figure tradeoffs in security and politics. And he must reconcile his conviction that the combat phase of U.S. involvement in Iraq must end with his commanders’ concern in Baghdad that hard-fought gains could be squandered.
It boils down to this: How much more effort is the Iraq war worth? What is the risk of leaving too soon?
Is the 16-month timetable too short, given the uncertain state of stability and political reconciliation in Iraq and the potential cost of seeing the country slide back into widespread sectarian war?
And is anything substantially beyond 16 months too long, given the call for still more troops in Afghanistan, where Obama himself has said the battle against extremists is going in the wrong direction?
Obama is still considering his options, which officials say includes a less hurried, 23-month withdrawal. The deadline he inherited from the Bush administration is Dec. 31, 2011, the date set in a security agreement with Baghdad that says all U.S. troops, not just combat forces, must be gone by then.
One clue to some of the thinking inside the White House might lie with the views of Obama’s national security adviser, retired Marine Gen. James Jones. Jones co-chaired a study published in January 2008 on the way ahead in Afghanistan. The group endorsed the idea of providing more military support for Afghanistan, including resources that become available as combat forces are withdrawn from Iraq.
The president has an additional factor to weigh: the political cost of backing off the 16-month pullout timetable that was a prominent feature of his campaign. Although he has said he thinks 16 months is a reasonable timetable, he also has assured military leaders that he will consider their advice.
Notably absent, at least so far, is even a whiff of public pressure from fellow Democrats to stick to a 16-month timeline. That suggests Obama’s party might be satisfied so long as he makes early and clear steps in the direction of ending U.S. combat involvement in Iraq, even if on a somewhat longer timeline.
Obama campaigned for the White House on a promise that he would end the war and get U.S. commanders moving immediately on a transition to Iraqi control of their own security. He said military experts believe combat troops can be pulled out safely at a rate of one to two brigades a month, meaning all 14 combat brigades there now could be gone within 16 months, which equates to mid-2010.
Peter Mansoor, a retired Army colonel who was the executive officer for Petraeus when the general was in Baghdad overseeing the “surge” of U.S. forces in 2007-08, said he thinks it likely that Obama will pull at least four combat brigades out of Iraq by the end of this year. But he hopes the president does not insist on getting all 14 brigades out within 16 months.
“If the president orders it, the military can do it, but whether it’s advisable or not is a different story,” he said in a telephone interview. “Quite frankly, I don’t think it is, given the risk you would incur to potentially upsetting the political situation” inside Iraq.