Tuesday, August 4, 2009

No Change

From Z Net- Written by By Dahr Jamail 

Search & Avoid

Writing on his blog from Baquba, Iraq, in September 2004, Specialist Jeff Englehart commented: "Three soldiers in our unit have been hurt in the last four days and the true amount of army-wide casualties leaving Iraq are unknown. The figures are much higher than what is reported. We get awards and medals that are supposed to make us feel proud about our wicked assignment..." 

Over the years, in response to such feelings, some American soldiers have come up with ingenious ways to express defiance or dissent on our distant battlegrounds. These have been little noted in the mainstream media, and when they do surface, officials in the Pentagon or in Washington just brush them aside as "bad apple" incidents (the same explanation they tend to use when a war crime is exposed). 

But in the stories of men and women who served in the occupation of Iraq, they often play a different role. In October 2007, for instance, I interviewed Corporal Phil Aliff, an Iraq War veteran, then based at Fort Drum in upstate New York. He recalled:

"During my stints in Iraq between August 2005 and July 2006, we probably ran 300 patrols. Most of the men in my platoon were just in from combat tours in Afghanistan and morale was incredibly low. Recurring hits by roadside bombs had demoralized us and we realized the only way we could avoid being blown up was to stop driving around all the time. So every other day we would find an open field and park, and call our base every hour to tell them we were searching for weapon caches in the fields and everything was going fine. All our enlisted people had grown disenchanted with the chain of command."

Aliff referred to this tactic as engaging in "search and avoid" missions, a sardonic expression recycled from the Vietnam War when soldiers were sent out on official "search and destroy" missions. 

Sergeant Eli Wright, who served as a medic with the 1st Infantry Division in Ramadi from September 2003 through September 2004, had a similar story to tell me. "Oh yeah, we did search and avoid missions all the time. It was common for us to go set camp atop a bridge and use it as an over-watch position. We would use our binoculars to observe rather than sweep, but call in radio checks every hour to report on our sweeps." 

According to Private First Class Clifton Hicks, who served in Iraq with the First Cavalry from October 2003, only six months after Baghdad was occupied by American troops, until July 2004, search and avoid missions began early and always had the backing of a senior non-commissioned officer or a staff sergeant. "Our platoon sergeant was with us and he knew our patrols were bullshit, just riding around to get blown up," he explained. "We were at Camp Victory at Baghdad International Airport. A lot of the time we'd leave the main gate and come right back in another gate to the base where there's a big PX with a nice mess hall and a Burger King. We'd leave one guy at the Humvee to call in every hour, while the others stayed at the PX. We were just sick and tired of going out on these stupid patrols." 

Saying "No" One at a Time 

"There was nothing to be done," Corporal Casler says of his time in Iraq, "no progress to be made there. Dissent starts as simple as saying this is bullshit. Why am I risking my life?" 

Sometimes such feelings have permeated entire units and soldiers in them have refused to follow orders en masse. One of the more dramatic of these incidents occurred in July 2007. The 2nd Platoon of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, in Baghdad had lost many men in its 11 months of deployment. After a roadside bomb killed five more, its members held a meeting and agreed that it was no longer possible for them to function professionally. Concerned that their anger might actually touch off a massacre of Iraqi civilians, they staged a quiet revolt against their commanders instead. 

Kelly Kennedy, a reporter with the 
Military Times embedded with Charlie Company prior to the revolt, described the shape the platoon members were in by that time: "[T]hey went right to mental health and they got sleeping medications, and they basically couldn't sleep and reacted poorly. And then, they were supposed to go out on patrol again that day. And they, as a platoon, the whole platoon -- it was about 40 people -- said, 'We're not going to do it. We can't. We're not mentally there right now.'" 

In response, the military broke up the platoon. Each individual involved was also "flagged" so he would not get a promotion or receive any award due. 

To this day, troops in Iraq continue to be plagued by equipment and manpower shortages, and work long hours in an extreme climate. In addition, their stress levels are regularly raised by news from home of veterans returning to separations and divorces, and of a Veteran's Administration often ill-equipped and unwilling to provide appropriate physical and psychological care to veterans. 

While no broad poll of troops has been conducted recently, a Zogby poll in February 2006 found that 72% of soldiers in Iraq felt the occupation should be ended within a year. My interviews with those recently back from Iraq indicate that levels of despair and disappointment are once again on the rise among troops who are beginning to realize, months after the Obama administration was ushered in, that hopes of an early withdrawal have evaporated.

The IRR  [Individual Ready Reserve]  is composed of troops who have finished their active duty service but still have time remaining on their contracts. The typical military contract mandates four years of active duty followed by four years in the IRR, though variations on this pattern exist. Ready Reserve members live civilian lives and are not paid by the military, but they are required to show up for periodic musters. Many have moved on from military life and are enrolled in college, working civilian jobs, and building families. 

At any point, however, a member of the Ready Reserve can be recalled to active duty. This policy has led to the involuntary reactivation of tens of thousands of troops to fight the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lieutenant General Jack C. Stultz, the Chief of the U.S. Army Reserve and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Reserve Command, told Congress on March 3rd that, since September 11, 2001, the Army has mobilized about 28,000 from the Reserves. There have been 3,724 Marines involuntarily recalled and mobilized during that same period, according to Major Steven O'Connor, a Marine Corps spokesman. (According to Major O'Connor, as of May 2009, the Marines are no longer recalling individuals from the IRR.) 

Ironically, under a new commander-in-chief whom many voters believed to be anti-war, the Army is continuing its Individual Ready Reserve recalls. "The IRR recall has not seen any change since Obama became president," Sarah Lazare, the project coordinator for Courage to Resist, says. "It's difficult to predict what the Obama administration's policy will be in the future regarding the IRR, but definitely they haven't made any moves to stop this practice." 

Needing boots on the ground, according to Lazare, the military continues to fall back on the Ready Reserve system to fill the gaps: "Since these are experienced troops, many of them have already served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan." Lazare adds, "When Obama announced his Afghanistan surge, we got a huge wave of calls from soldiers saying they didn't want to be reactivated and to please help them not go." 

The Future of Military Dissent 

Right now, acts of dissent, refusal, and resistance in the all-volunteer military remain small-scale and scattered. Ranging from the extreme private act of suicide to avoidance of duty to actual refusal of duty, they continue to consist largely of individual acts. Present-day G.I. resistance to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan cannot begin to be compared with the extensive resistance movement that helped end the Vietnam War and brought an army of draftees to the point of near mutiny in the late 1960s. Nevertheless, the ongoing dissent that does exist in the U.S. military, however fragmented and overlooked at the moment, should not be discounted. 

The Iraq War boils on at still dangerous levels of violence, while the war in Afghanistan (and across the border in Pakistan) only grows, as does the U.S. commitment to both. It's already clear that even an all-volunteer military isn't immune to dissent. If violence in either or both occupations escalates, if the Pentagon struggles to add more boots on the ground, if the stresses and strains on the military, involving endless redeployments to combat zones, increase rather than lessen, then the acts of Agosto, Bishop, and Shepherd may turn out to be pathbreaking ones in a world of dissent yet to be experienced and explored. Add in dissatisfaction and discontent at home if, in the coming years, American treasure continues to be poured into an Afghan quagmire, and real support for a G.I. resistance movement may surface. If so, then the early pioneers in methods of dissent within the military will have laid the groundwork for a movement. 

"If we want soldiers to choose the right but difficult path, they must know beyond any shadow of a doubt that they will be supported by Americans." So said First Lieutenant Ehren Watada of the U.S. Army, the first commissioned officer to publicly refuse a combat deployment to Iraq. (He finally had the military charges against him dropped by the Justice Department.) The future of any such movement in the military is now unknowable, but keep your eyes open. History, even military history, holds its own surprises. 

Dahr Jamail has reported from Iraq and writes for Inter Press Service, Le Monde Diplomatique, and other outlets. He is the author of Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq and the forthcoming book The Will To Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan

Coalition Military Fatalities By Year and Month~ Afghanistan



VP Joe Biden had said when they do the surge in Afghanistan, they expect to see an uptick in casualties. Unfortunately, he was right, as July 2009 has the largest coalition death toll since they began the Afghanistan war in 2001. We don't hear much news about it- that other war- it is almost like a black out on news from Afghanistan. We hear random updates about violence in Iraq. As the Iraq war winds down, the Afghanistan surge winds up. 

The following are IRAQ Statistics

U.S. Military Deaths By Year/Month

View Graph: U.S. Fatalities By Month/Year

Self inflicted Fatalities

Fatalities - Self InflictedArmyNavyMarinesAirForceTotal
Died of Self-Inflicted wounds1544261185

185 soldiers were so distressed by the traumatic reality of War, they committed suicide. 

I never thought the Afghansitan surge was a good idea. 

Openly announcing it in presidential campaigns gave Afghanistan a very pubic heads up to ready for the surge, and roadside bombs continue to plague the troops in a very different, harsh & rugged geography, and few roads. 

What the troops endure is beyond imagination, but it is also these war budgets that prevent us from doing better things... like having money for health care. 


D.K. Raed said...

excellent article! very enlightening to read of these soldiers' methods of resistance. sure hope they don't resort to some other of the vietnam war methods (like fragging officers).

but fran, I think (hope) the title to the second graph of death is a typo (IRAN vs IRAQ).

then again, perhaps it is a future projection for a nuclearized iran. if so, it is an underestimate. if war = individual death, then nuclear war = total annihilation.

Fran said...

I can see how someone on their 3rd deployment, or even after seeing so many people killed or injured question the meaning of the mission.
Thanks for pointing out the typo-- which I have since corrected in all caps bold.
It was early & I was rushing. But truth be known-- when you start having multiple wars, it becomes hard to keep track of who & where your country is warring with. (Mental note-- bad idea).
As for Iran-- who knows if the US is just hyping propaganda re nukes??? Safe to say it is unstable at best.

D.K. Raed said...

I figured you'd eventually catch it, but just in case ....

OMG, you are so right, these multiple wars are getting hard to keep track. Are we at war with Oceania yet?

The suicide stat is so sad. And yet, in a very cynical way, I might be inclined to think the powers-that-be consider that action to be the perfect soldier. Use 'em up, physically and mentally; the survivors then self-destruct before they cost the "homeland" (ugh, I HATE that word) a buncha money. Too cynical?

Fran said...

DK~ Please feel free to always point out any error.
That was a BIG ONE! Even though a one letter difference Iraq/Iran- I think such a war would prove to be a huge mistake & many smaller countries in the region might just decide to join ranks together, realizing the U.S. has gone too far.

Contrary to warhawk beliefs, the U.S. is not 911 to the world (in fact I see they have removed that slogan that had been permanently affixed to the Marines local recruiting office).

That mindset continues to cost us dearly.

In part, it is also the short changing of the Veteran or active soldier health care services, who suffers with PTSD- either denied care, or such a heavy stigma attached to it (only wusses go for mental health/counseling), that many soldiers try to handle it themselves or go it alone. Which proved to be fatal.

The military tried to do a big bandaid approach, a few weeks of counseling, with a focus on accepting the brutality of violence, then right back into active duty.

For many soldiers it is the notice of a repeat call back to active duty that pushed them over the edge- i.e., they would rather die than go back there.