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Editor’s note: Eilhys England contributed to this column.
Now that the election’s over, President Bush needs to deep-six his candidate hat and get serious as commander in chief. His first priority should be to hold accountable those defense and intelligence chiefs and their high-level underlings responsible for the many grievous, even criminal, mistakes that have occurred in Iraq on their watch.
Without a constructive critique of what’s gone down in that beleaguered country – a no-holds-barred appraisal that actually changes America’s ill-conceived counterinsurgency direction – we’ll be stuck in a protracted struggle that will only get uglier as the terrible weeks, months and years bleed by.
Meanwhile, give or take a few captains and colonels, not one senior-level perp’s been sacked. And we’re talking about the brass responsible for gravely consequential life-and-death screw-ups such as: insufficient troop allocation for the occupation phase; premature disbandment of the Iraqi army, police and other security forces; unrealistic initial planning and amateur execution during Round One of rebuilding a new Iraqi army; top leadership dereliction of duty that allowed the prison abuses; and the shocking inability to understand the very nature of the war in which our fine soldiers are engaged.
I constantly hear the chant that we must support our troops. But what I see is more superficial lip service than serious consideration for our warriors’ welfare. If our top generals truly supported the troops, for example, they would have acknowledged that we were about to become engaged in a long-term insurgency campaign – and planned appropriately – long before the first tank shocked-and-awed its way into Iraq.
Any good infantry stud who’s studied insurgency warfare – especially Israel’s campaigns in Lebanon and Palestine, and ours in Vietnam and the Soviets in Afghanistan, where about 30 percent of all U.S. and Soviet casualties were the result of mines and booby traps – would have surmised from the get-go that our Iraqi insurgent opponent’s weapon of choice would be hit-and-run ambushes augmented by explosive devices. So it’s not a stretch to think it should have been obvious to our brass hats that Iraqi resisters would look at explosive devices as a cheap, easy method of inflicting casualties and disrupting operations, and use the same historically proven tactics that drove the Turks out of Iraq (then Mesopotamia), the USA out of Vietnam, the Soviets out of Afghanistan and the Israelis out of Lebanon.
To date in Iraq, thousands of our troops have been killed or wounded by these nasty zappers, presently called improvised explosive devices. But whatever the fancy name, IEDs are still the meanest, most feared insurgent weapon because of the savage mental and physical damage they lay on the troops. Not a day passes without the horrible sound of an IED exploding, killing and maiming soldiers and civilians.
Yet thousands of Iraqi ammo depots filled with the hundreds of thousands of tons of ammo presently being used by the insurgents to produce IEDs went unsecured for months. And when our senior commanders didn’t bother to assign the highest priority to their security or destruction, the ammo dumps became handy-dandy drive-in Wal-Marts for the insurgents’ lethal weapon of choice.
The most common IEDs used in Iraq are artillery rounds packed with explosives, reinforced with shrapnel or nails and connected by wire to a blasting cap. These mean suckers can be detonated manually or by a standoff firing device, or they can be used in kamikaze vehicles for an all-too-common, even bigger bang.
During the final days of the presidential campaign, one of the thousands of neglected ammo dumps became an election flash point. In an attempt to take the heat off Bush, Rudy Giuliani actually went so far as to state that the heisted ammo was “the troops’ fault” and not the responsibility of the commander in chief.
But while Bush shouldn’t be held responsible for tactical snafus, his generals sure should – starting with Tommy Franks. It’s time that the C in C showed his support for the troops by nailing the culpable parties for all of the major military screw-ups in his pre-emptive war.
And an ambitious former mayor who dodged the Vietnam draft should be rapped on the head with the butt of an M-16 rifle for putting the politically expedient bad mouth on our brave soldiers.