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This year, the Pentagon raked in almost as much green stuff – $480 billion – as the $560 billion the U.S. spent during World War II. So it’s no wonder the biggest business in the world spends megabucks each year campaigning to convince American taxpayers to keep the cash coming if we want to stay superpower safe.

And anyone who tries to mess with the message machine better watch out. In all my years as a soldier or reporter, I’ve never taken more flak than from Pentagon propagandists.

Early in the war, for example, military analysts were bombed almost as heavily as the Republican Guard over voicing a reasonable concern that the Pentagon hadn’t put enough tactical boots on the ground. I can’t speak for the others, but my motivation was not to second-guess the Pentagon, only to protect our warriors. According to reports I was getting from trusted front-line sources in Iraq, our soldiers were taking serious lumps from stay-behind guerrillas tearing up our vital, undefended supply lines – which at that point stretched more than 300 bloody miles from the Kuwaiti wharfs to the cutting edge.

Now that the war has cooled down, here’s the word from some who ran the gauntlet or know the inside score:

“Every vehicle in my convoy was hit,” says a supply captain. “We had no armor protection, just thin-skinned vehicles. Every town we hit was a fire-swept gauntlet.”

“It wasn’t just the 507th that got shredded by the Fedayeen – Jessica Lynch’s shot-up unit that paid a high price because the supply route wasn’t secure – but every convoy that I was on,” says a sergeant truck master.

“The biggest story of this war is the failure of logistics to keep up,” says a battalion commander. “No matter what you hear … the lack of supplies to keep up with us has been a problem.”

“My Marines existed day to day on two MREs (meals ready to eat), and my tanks were frequently running on empty,” says a captain.

As usual, the brave warriors down on the ground sucked it up and made a high-risk plan work.

“The force was too light from the get-go,” writes a colonel. “I’m not talking 3rd Mech Div. or 1st Marine Div. but the lack of troops to protect the supply lines. The 101st Airborne Division and the 82nd Airborne saved the day. Instead of jumping into Baghdad as originally planned, they cleared the bypassed enemy from the rear areas in some damn hard and valiant fighting.”

“We all knew we could beat their forces – that was a no-brainer – but there wasn’t a single general officer in the land force that wanted to go in as light as we did,” reports a major at Third Army Headquarters in Kuwait. “They predicted the problems on the drive to Baghdad and pushed for more ground force. Then they followed orders and went in light.”

“We had battalions of combat MPs [military police] sitting in the states,” writes another Army major. “They should have been beefed up with armor and sent in the wake of 3ID (3rd Infantry Division), but that never happened because [Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld overruled our generals and went light.”

Clearly, had the MPs secured the supply route and the 101st and 82nd grabbed their Baghdad objectives by vertical envelopment, several hundred Jessica Lynches and Patrick Millers wouldn’t be dead or wounded, and the looting and rioting could have been minimized. We also might have saved Iraq’s irreplaceable treasures, as well as securing the gas station.

When things looked grim, Rumsfeld was quick to announce that the operation was “[Gen. Tommy] Franks’ plan.”

But now that the spinners have spun the victory – and so the responsibility – back into the SecDef’s corner, Congress must move to investigate these charges by warriors who risked it all executing his allegedly flawed plan. If what these very angry troops report is true – if we did go in too light – we owe it to them to hold Rumsfeld to the same standard as his predecessor Les Aspin in 1991 when he refused to send tanks to Somalia and 18 American warriors were killed.

The Pentagon must not be allowed to use the template for victory in Iraq to rationalize needlessly risking yet more young American lives the next time the neoconservatives are into regime change.

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