Left in the Dust: Troops stranded in Iraq are questioning their Commander in Chief.
Thursday, July 31, 2003
A few weeks back, President Bush arguably placed the troops stationed in Iraq in even greater harm''s way by uttering his now infamous "Bring them on!" comment when asked about the increasing attacks and mounting US casualties.
Shortly after his comment, Army Times posed this question to its readers: "What do you think about the ''bring them on'' challenge President Bush issued July 2 from the White House, referring to those who attack US troops in Iraq?" Nearly 60 percent agreed with the following statement: "It was irresponsible and unnecessarily placed the lives of US troops in even greater danger."
Last week, after hearing of anger and criticism from some of the troops in Iraq and their families at home, the Pentagon finally announced a troop-rotation plan. The long-awaited plan is aimed at relieving "the weary military personnel in Iraq with fresh American and international troops in the coming months, with most US soldiers facing yearlong deployments," Reuters reported.
A new Army brigade (about 5,000 troops) "built around the high-tech ''Stryker'' armored vehicle" will be sent. The plan "also calls for activating thousands more Army National Guard soldiers," according to Reuters. Gen. Jack Keane, Acting Army Chief of Staff, told a Pentagon briefing that the replacements are likely to face one-year deployments.
Eight days earlier, thousands of soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division learned that they wouldn''t be heading home anytime soon. Stepped up attacks against occupation forces, and the refusal by other countries to send troops to Iraq, caused division commander Maj. Gen. Buford C. Blount III to revise his estimate as to when the troops would be reunited with their families, AP reported.
This reversal by Maj. Gen. Blount happened just days after he said he hoped two of the division''s combat teams--roughly 9,000 soldiers--could return home to Fort Stewart within the next six weeks.
The 3rd Infantry Division--which spearheaded the attack on Baghdad--sent 16,500 troops to Iraq, and so far has suffered some 36 deaths (more than any other unit in Iraq). "The units have been ordered to stay ''due to the uncertainty of the situation in Iraq and the recent increase in attacks on the coalition forces,''" Blount informed the families of the troops in an e-mail message that had been obtained by The Associated Press.
The troops in Iraq are suffering "from low morale that has in some cases hit ''rock bottom,''" the Christian Science Monitor recently reported. And last week, several soldiers vented their frustration to US television news reporters. "If Donald Rumsfeld were here, I''d ask him for his resignation," one disgruntled soldier told ABC''s Good Morning America."
"It pretty much makes me lose faith in the Army," Pfc. Jason Punyhotra of the 3rd Infantry told ABC News in Fallujah, Iraq. "I don''t really believe anything they tell me. If they told me we were leaving next week, I wouldn''t believe them."
"I''ve got my own ''Most Wanted'' list," a sergeant at the 2nd Battle Combat Team Headquarters told ABC News'' Jeffrey Kofman, referring to the Administration''s deck of cards. "The aces in my deck are Paul Bremer, Donald Rumsfeld, George Bush and Paul Wolfowitz."
Going public with these comments quickly became a story within a story. In a classic attempt to kill the messenger, a White House official allegedly passed along information to Matt Drudge, of the online Drudge Report, that reporter Kofman is not only gay, but he is also a Canadian.
One officer later told the San Francisco Chronicle''s Robert Collier: "It was the end of the world. It went all the way up to President Bush and back down again on top of us. At least six of us here will lose our careers."
While the dangerous and difficult conditions in Iraq, combined with the unforeseen extension of their tour of duty, fueled flagging morale, a recent editorial in the Army Times shed light on a series of homeland developments that may add more fuel to that fire.
According to the Army Times, proposals that would have added "various pay-and-benefits incentives to the 2004 defense budget" are now considered "wasteful and unnecessary" by the Republican-controlled Congress.
The June 30 editorial said the troops were getting the "nickel-and-dime treatment" from Congress.
According to Army Times, the GOP-Congress has:
o Canceled a "modest proposal" to increase the benefit from $6,000 to $12,000 to families of soldiers who die on active duty.
o Roll back increases in monthly imminent-danger pay and family-separation allowance for troops "getting shot at in combat zones."
o Refused to consider tax relief for military homeowners and reservists.
Army Times: "Taken piecemeal, all these corner-cutting moves might be viewed as mere flesh wounds. But even flesh wounds are fatal if you suffer enough of them. It adds up to a troubling pattern that eventually will hurt morale--especially if the current breakneck operations tempo also rolls on unchecked and the tense situations in Iraq and Afghanistan do not ease."
The chickenhawks running the show at the White House should be embarrassed by their support for these measures. The media needs to ask why the troops are receiving this shabby treatment. And, with so little financial support for their families, it''s not surprising that the death and destruction the soldiers experience on foreign soil frequently follow them home.
America''s politicos are always at the head of the pack when it comes to waving the flag, wearing the lapel pins, putting up the yellow ribbons and mouthing empty slogans. As Army Times pointed out: "Talk is cheap--and getting cheaper by the day."
Bill Berkowitz is a columnist for WorkingForChange.com and Alternet.org.