Thursday, June 14, 2007

Perspective: By noon, U.S. soldiers stood alone

Above: Soldiers conduct a pre-convoy briefing prior to rolling out on a patrol in Babil province.

It was noon in Askary, a neighborhood in the Babil provincial capital that the U.S. Army has tagged “non-compliant,” and a small group of U.S. troops stood all alone.

The Iraqi army, the Iraqi police and the Babil SWAT unit had all evaporated in Sunday’s scorching sun. Even the scores of kids, who just minutes before had swarmed the American troops begging for treats, were gone.

But the small team’s feelings of vulnerability at being left alone in the dusty street paled in comparison to their frustration at being abandoned slowly throughout the morning by their Iraqi counterparts during a mission called Operation Babylon Sweep.

Instead of coaching the Iraqis on interviewing suspects and collecting illegal weapons, the U.S. team watched Iraqi police let residents walk unimpeded through a cordon, Iraqi soldiers quit their house searches after about two blocks, and an Iraqi company commander take a mid- morning tea break in the shade.

The worst part of the morning, in the American team’s minds, came just before noon, when the troops found themselves guiding a sewage truck through the narrow streets, looking for standing sewage in need of vacuuming.

“This is not our finest moment,” said Sgt. 1st Class Stephen Davis, 43, of Highlands, N.C. “This is not what we’re trained to do.”

Read the rest at Stars and Stripes