Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- August 8th edition

August 8, 2003: Smiles, tears and hugs at Fort Stewart, Georgia as soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade, who saw some of the heaviest fighting in Iraq, return home.

August 8, 2002:

Scenarios narrow for attacking Iraq

In recent months they've been pouring a lot of concrete at the al Udeid air base in Qatar. The giant facility – used by US Air Force units – has added a 13,000-foot runway, as well as ammunition dumps and a tent city able to house thousands of troops.

Military analysts surmise that the Pentagon is upgrading the Qatar installation so it can serve as a command post for any US attack on Iraq. Presumably other possible launching pads for anti-Iraq action in the region are receiving similar improvements.

"I'd like to get a look at some of those air bases in western Turkey," says John Pike of, a think tank that obtained satellite photos of al Udeid this week.

As the work in Qatar shows, the giant machine of the United States military is moving, slowly but inevitably, toward completing preparations for war with Iraq. That doesn't necessarily mean fighting is imminent. The White House appears still far from picking a date certain for invasion.

Nor does it mean war plans are set in stone. Much has yet to be decided.

But amid the news leaks about possible troops levels, strategy, and timing, a pattern appears to be emerging.

Officials may have moved beyond the extreme military options – a massive quarter-of-a-million troop effort on the one hand, and a small special operations strike on the other.

They're now likely focusing on something that might be defined as either Gulf War Lite or Afghan War Plus – a mix of conventional force and lightning Special Forces strikes designed to oust Saddam Hussein's regime.

"The good news is they are seriously planning," says Gary Schmitt, executive director at the Project for the New American Century, who believes conflict with Iraq is clearly coming.

One Iraq war option that received public notice earlier this summer was a massive operation proposed by Gen. Tommy Franks, commander in chief of Central Command (CentCom). It involved upwards of 250,000 troops and months of deployment. It was, essentially, an extension of the Gulf War, a package of deployment plans that CentCom officers have been practicing and playing out in war games for over a decade.

A second plan, attributed to former White House security adviser Gen. Wayne Downing, involved lightning strikes by Special Forces units in conjunction with Iraqi opposition troops, backed up by US air power. On the surface it was very similar to the strategy that toppled the Taliban in Afghanistan.

If the first option seemed ponderous, the second may be too risky. Reports now indicate that the White House is focusing on a blend of the two. General Franks briefed President Bush Monday night on the latest plans, which call for upwards of 80,000 troops, plus a massive air campaign...

Ppublicly the most hawkish US officials have been sounding increasingly impatient.

"Over time, the economic sanctions [on Iraq] weaken, the diplomatic effort gets a little tired," Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week.

A conventional attack on Iraq, say analysts, would consist of armored divisions punching into the country from Turkey in the north, and from the south. Presumably, the southern pincer would be launched from Kuwait, since Saudi Arabia has indicated its unwillingness to take part in an Iraq war.

The base at al Udeid in Qatar is widely thought to be the replacement for Prince Sultan air base in Saudi Arabia, long the US Air Force's regional command center of choice.

But the attack plan might not be conventional at all. It could be the so-called "Inside-Out option," in which US forces begin with a rapid move on Baghdad, bypassing entrenched forces in the rest of the country.

To be quickly successful, US forces would likely have to be able to mount 1,000 to 1,500 air sorties a day, analyst Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told a Senate panel last week.

Iraq's air force is its weakest military link, noted Cordesman. In contrast, its ground forces still number over 400,000, and it would be "foolish" to assume that they would just crumble before a concerted US attack. In the Gulf War, defections did not occur until Iraqi units came under intense pressure.

"Saddam has been in power during the entire life of 80 percent of the Iraqi people. To say ... that there are factions that will not follow him is reckless and dangerous," said Cordesman.

Read the rest at the Christian Science Monitor

August 8, 2003:

Bush marks 100 days since end of major combat in Iraq

President Bush claimed major progress in Iraq on Friday but mourned the growing loss of American lives, 100 days after he declared an end to major combat.

"We suffer when we lose life," the president said. "Our country is a country that grieves at those who sacrifice." The tally of soldiers who have died in action there over the last 100 days reached 56 Thursday night. Bush said the soldiers had been participating in a vital "part of the war on terror."

Bush spoke at his Texas ranch alongside Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld following a meeting on military strategy.

Reviewing developments in Iraq, Bush said, "We've made good progress. Iraq is more secure."

He cited the reopening of banks, improvements in Iraq's infrastructure and the stirring of democracy, which Bush said "is a major shift of system in that part of the world."

Bush would not say whether he shared the assessment of the commander of coalition forces in Iraq, Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who said Thursday that U.S. forces will remain in Iraq at least two years.

Bush would only say "I will do what's necessary to win the war on terror." Bush said Americans have "got to understand I will not forget the lessons of Sept. 11," when America was hit with its worst ever terrorist attack.

The president also would not say whether he had an estimate on how many more soldiers would die. Nor did he answer a question on future costs of the American presence in Iraq.

Bush said he was heartened by financial and military contributions other countries were making in Iraq, and promised to present a "well thought-out" cost estimate to Congress.

"Congress will be able to ask legitimate questions like you're asking," Bush told reporters outside his ranch house, "and they'll be answered."

Read the rest at the San Diego Tribune

August 8, 2004:

Iraq war a 'gift' to Osama: CIA analyst

The US invasion of Iraq was a "tremendous gift" to Osama bin Laden and a major setback in the struggle against al-Qaeda, according to a CIA terrorism expert who has written a scathing account of the conduct of the US "war on terror".

In an interview with AFP, the author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror blasted the efforts of successive US governments and the US intelligence community in fighting what he describes as a global Islamic insurgency.

"Anonymous," as he is known, painted a dismal picture of the situation in Iraq, a "very bleak" outlook for Afghanistan and advocated debate about US policies which he claimed are providing a fertile recruiting ground for al-Qaeda in the Muslim world.

A senior CIA analyst, "Anonymous" has been widely identified as the head of the bin Laden unit at the Central Intelligence Agency's Counter-terrorist Centre from 1996 to 1999. He was allowed to write the book on condition he not reveal his identity.

Published last month with an initial print run of 10,000 copies, the provocative work, which was vetted by his employer for classified material, has climbed to number five on the New York Times list of non-fiction best-sellers...

"Anonymous," a bearded, professorial man in his 50s, is blistering in his criticism of the US decision to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein.

"It's a disaster," he said. "I'm not an expert at all on Saddam or WMD (weapons of mass destruction) or Iraq but as it factors into the war against al-Qaeda or al-Qaedaism it was a tremendous gift to bin Laden.

"It validated so many of the arguments he's made over the past decade," "Anonymous" said, particularly the claim by the Saudi-born al-Qaeda leader that the West seeks to occupy the Islamic holy places.

"We have the first one, the most important in the Arabian peninsula, we occupy that in their eyes," he said in a reference to Saudi Arabia.

"We now occupy Iraq, the second holiest place, and the Israelis have Jerusalem, the third.

"The idea that we would smash any government that posed a threat to Israel - that's validated by our actions," he continued.

"And his claim that we lust after control of Arab oil; Iraq has the second greatest reserves in the Arab world.

"So it's been an astounding victory for Osama bin Laden in terms of perceptions and perceptions are reality so often," "Anonymous" said.

He said the situation in Iraq, where more than 900 US soldiers have died, "looks like Afghanistan in the '80s with the Soviets, kind of a mujahideen magnet".

Read the rest at the Age

August 8, 2005:

Pa. soldier killed in Iraq remembered by his comrades

Pfc. Nils G. Thompson was helping to locate voting sites for Iraq's scheduled constitutional referendum when he peered out from the hatch atop his armored vehicle.

Seconds later, a sniper killed Thompson. It was one day after his 19th birthday.

Thompson, from Confluence, Pa., was remembered by his fellow soldiers Monday as a quiet, religious person known for regularly reading his Bible at a military base in this troubled city in northern Iraq. He died last Thursday.

Tim Wilson, an Army chaplain, said Thompson had been unusually excited a few days before his death because he had given another soldier a Bible and he had started reading it. Thompson made a point of attending both Protestant and Roman Catholic religious services on base, Wilson said.

"Unfortunately, the average American will never know, nor can they even comprehend, the sacrifices and greatness of the men in this room," said Lt. Col. Michael Kurilla, Thompson's commanding officer, to a hall filled with hundreds of soldiers.

Thompson, who enlisted in the Army at 18, was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, which is expected to redeploy back to the U.S. in October.

Twelve soldiers in the battalion have been killed and over 150 have been awarded Purple Hearts for injuries received in action.

Read the rest at the Times Picayune

August 8, 2006:

Center for war-related brain injuries faces budget cut

Congress appears ready to slash funding for the research and treatment of brain injuries caused by bomb blasts, an injury that military scientists describe as a signature wound of the Iraq war.

House and Senate versions of the 2007 Defense appropriation bill contain $7 million for the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center — half of what the center received last fiscal year.

Proponents of increased funding say they are shocked to see cuts in the treatment of bomb blast injuries in the midst of a war.

"I find it basically unpardonable that Congress is not going to provide funds to take care of our soldiers and sailors who put their lives on the line for their country," says Martin Foil, a member of the center's board of directors. "It blows my imagination."

The Brain Injury Center, devoted to treating and understanding war-related brain injuries, has received more money each year of the war — from $6.5 million in fiscal 2001 to $14 million last year. Spokespersons for the appropriations committees in both chambers say cuts were due to a tight budget this year.

"Honestly, they would have loved to have funded it, but there were just so many priorities," says Jenny Manley, spokeswoman for the Senate Appropriations Committee. "They didn't have any flexibility in such a tight fiscal year"...

Scientists at the center develop ways to diagnose and treat servicemembers who suffer brain damage. The work is done at seven military and Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals, including the center's headquarters at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, and one civilian treatment site.

The center has clashed with the Pentagon in recent months over a program to identify troops who have suffered mild to moderate brain injuries in Iraq from mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and roadside bombs — the most common weapons used by insurgents.

Preliminary research by the center shows that about 10% of all troops in Iraq, and up to 20% of front line infantry troops, suffer concussions during combat tours. Many experience headaches, disturbed sleep, memory loss and behavior issues after coming home, the research shows.

The center urged the Pentagon to screen all troops returning from Iraq in order to treat symptoms and create a database of brain injury victims. Scientists say multiple concussions can cause permanent brain damage.

The Pentagon so far has declined to do the screening and argues that more research is needed.

Read the rest at USA Today