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Editor’s note: Eilhys England contributed to this column.
Not too long ago in Iraq, a young American officer was warned by a Polish colonel: “You can’t go out there. People are getting killed. We must stay on our bases where we are safe.”
The American replied, “I didn’t come to Iraq to stay safe while American soldiers and Iraqi civilians are dying and you folks sit on your butts.”
“What’s your view on Poland’s (2,460 troops) and Italy’s (3,000) threat to follow Spain’s pullout from Iraq?” I asked him.
“No big deal,” he replied, “because they don’t bring much to the party. We had to take An Najaf two times, once from Saddam and once from Sadr. We ended up paying in blood twice for the same real estate while the Poles and Spanish (1,300) let one of the most peaceful areas in Iraq go to hell.”
The southern sectors of Iraq – mostly Shia – are under the command of Brits (9,000) and Poles. Except for the South Koreans (1,100) and Australians (800), most of our coalition partners in Iraq come under these two commands.
“I didn’t see either the Poles or the Brits pushing subordinate units to clean up the insurgents who daily got stronger,” adds a vet recently returned from Iraq.
“Many of our coalition partners have yet to learn you can’t hunker down in mud forts and expect insurgents to kick back,” says another good soldier, who’s been working with coalition troops for almost a year. “For example, a Bulgarian (480) leader, fed up with being mortared night after night, asked his Polish commander why his unit wasn’t sending out patrols to kill the attackers. The Pole replied, ‘Well … it’s very dangerous out there.’ By giving up the initiative, the Poles have allowed the insurgents to determine where and when they will strike.”
According to this source, the problem isn’t just with the Poles: “When Spain bugged out, sadly the Hondurans (368) and Dominicans (302) followed. These guys were fierce fighters like the El Salvadorians (361), who fortunately stayed. As for the Spanish, they left with every bullet they brought.”
During the second battle for An Najaf, the coalition compound would have been overrun if not for U.S. and Salvadorian troops. During the retaking of Najaf, both the Polish and Spanish hid on their bases, even though the operation was in their sector.
The southernmost provinces fall under the command of the Brits – which also includes the reportedly “worthless” Italian brigade.
The recently returned vet describes how a senior British officer explained his army’s philosophy: “We stay back until they become very bold and over-extend themselves. Then we jump out, counterattack and drive them back.”
“That’s how the Brits lost the American Revolution,” the vet observed. “The Iraqi insurgents avoid direct contact until they’re ready to engage on their terms at their time.”
Just before he came home, one Brit battalion was moved to the mean killing field of Baghdad – where he notes that “they better seriously change their style of doing things if they want to stay alive.”
“Right after the invasion, the Brits were able to go wherever they wished,” he explained. “But once they started vacating territory, it fell back into contention.”
Not all comments about coalition allies are negative. According to these stalwart, concerned American soldiers – all of whom asked for anonymity to protect their careers – the Japanese (240) are doing a great job. And anyone planning to shoot at a Bulgarian will find himself dead before he takes aim. Mongolians (160) have also proven their steel, and the Australians are superb, while the Ukrainians’ (1,600) performance is mixed.
They all agree that the Shia areas can be saved – but only if American senior leaders get coalition forces off their butts and out into the communities. And if the Brits, Poles and Italians would rather leave than take the initiative, the consensus is: Let them pack their coolers, teapots and beach umbrellas and go home!
Overall, the coalition appears to be a costly joke – but American taxpayers, who are stuck with a big chunk of the tab, should be losing their sense of humor by now. And our politicians who are so into crowing about the effectiveness of the coalition should take time out to talk to the guys who know.