Troops un­moved by pol­icy de­bate, say the war is be­ing won

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Rowan Scar­bor­ough

Troops on the ground in Iraq are not both­ered by out­side com­mis­sions such as the Iraq Study Group rec­om­mend­ing new mil­i­tary strate­gies, for­mer of­fi­cers said on Dec. 6.

And sol­diers do not mind frank talk, such as De­fense Sec­re­tary­des­ig­nate Robert M. Gates say­ing at his Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing last week that the United States is nei­ther win­ning nor los­ing in Iraq.

“What we’re not win­ning is the na­tion build­ing,” said re­tired Marine Lt. Gen. Michael DeLong, the deputy com­man­der of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand when the U.S.-led coali­tion top­pled Sad­dam Hus­sein. “The troops know ex­actly what they’re do­ing and they know ba­si­cally that in 14 out of 18 prov­inces, that they are win­ning the war on the ground.”

Gen. DeLong said the real en­emy is sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence. Un­til the Sunni and Shi’ite Mus­lims stop killing each other, the United States can take only lim­ited steps to end the fight­ing.

Charles Krohn, who earned the

Sil­ver Star in Viet­nam while an in­fantry of­fi­cer, said sol­diers in com­bat do not nor­mally con­cern them­selves with “grand strat­egy,” such as the Iraq Study Group re­port de­liv­ered to Pres­i­dent Bush.

“If you are in a small unit in Iraq, you are so tied to your bud­dies right next to you and the next mis­sion and get­ting it right and try­ing to sur­vive that you don’t have time to think of grand strat­egy,” the re­tired lieu­tenant colonel said.

But an Army Green Beret said such mil­i­tar­ily in­ex­pe­ri­enced pan­els can hurt morale.

“From what I have seen, they are a lot of white-haired politi­cos with zero mil­i­tary knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence,” said the sol­dier, who asked not to be named. “I hope that it will be po­litely shelved and Bush will rely on those that have some idea what they are talk­ing about. The only ef­fect this will have on the troops, as­sum­ing that it’s ig­nored, is a slight dip in morale.”

The panel, led by for­mer Sec­re­tary of State James A. Baker III and for­mer Rep. Lee H. Hamil­ton, In­di­ana Demo­crat, is made up of five Repub­li­cans and five Democrats who held se­nior gov­ern­ment posts or elected of­fices.

Mil­i­tary of­fi­cials pointed out that most of the study group’s key mil­i­tary rec­om­men­da­tions al­ready were be­ing in­sti­tuted in some way by Army Gen. Ge­orge Casey, the top com­man­der in Iraq.

“We should seek to com­plete the train­ing and equip­ping mis­sion by the first quar­ter of 2008 as stated by Gen­eral Ge­orge Casey on Oc­to­ber 24, 2006,” a key rec­om­men­da­tion states.

The study group all but re­jects the three ma­jor troop plans cir­cu­lat­ing on Capi­tol Hill. The group op­poses an im­me­di­ate troop pull­out, as pushed by Rep. John P. Murtha, Penn­syl­va­nia Demo­crat. It is­sued no rec­om­men­da­tion for a spe­cific time­line for the phased with­drawal of the cur­rent 15 com­bat brigades, as cham­pi­oned by Sen. Carl Levin, Michi­gan Demo­crat, the in­com­ing Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee chair­man.

The third pro­posal, an in­crease in U.S. forces prin­ci­pally pushed by Sen. John McCain, Ari­zona Repub­li­can, is men­tioned as a faint pos­si­bil­ity as a tem­po­rary mea­sure to quell vi­o­lence in Bagh­dad.

In­stead, the panel urges re­moval of most U.S. com­bat brigades by the win­ter of 2008, if bat­tle­field con­di­tions per­mit, af­ter lead mil­i­tary du­ties in all 18 prov­inces are handed over to the Iraqi Se­cu­rity Forces.

Army Gen. John Abizaid, chief of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand, told Congress last month that trans­fer to the Iraqis could be reached by the end of next year and would re­sult in an un­spec­i­fied U.S. troop exit.

Gen. DeLong said his only con­cern was that the panel did not in- clude a se­nior re­tired mil­i­tary of­fi­cer.

“If they formed a group of Jesse Jack­son, Nancy Pelosi, [Al] Gore and [John] Kerry and if they came up with rea­son­able pro­pos­als, that would be OK with me, too, in­stead of just say­ing your pol­icy is bro­ken,” he said. “Come up with some­thing worth­while.”

Rep. Ike Skel­ton, Mis­souri Demo­crat and in­com­ing House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee chair­man, struck a con­cil­ia­tory chord.

“Be­cause th­ese rec­om­men­da­tions have bi­par­ti­san sup­port from the ISG, I am en­cour­aged that bi­par­ti­san con­sen­sus might be achieved within Congress and with the ad­min­is­tra­tion, as well,” he said.

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